Many questions arise from the opinion survey widely reported yesterday as showing that Umno-run mass media campaigns had succeeded in blackening the Penang state government, portraying the chief minister, Lim Guan Eng, “as a Chinese who is threatening the Malays”, and the view that PKR and PAS could not safeguard Malay interests.
(Despite the negative views reported about the DAP, Lim Guan Eng himself was said to be highly regarded by a significant number of those surveyed. Coming from a survey in largely Umno territory, that must be encouraging news for DAP supporters if not for the general overall failure in shaping perception.)
By focusing on one key area — the threat to Malay interests — the survey itself comes across as an attempt to justify Umno’s race-based agenda, and to bolster the notion that only Umno can champion Malay interests. It does not seem to be an attempt to gauge Malay voters’ perception in general
And the media, in reporting on the findings — “Malays feel Penang under Chinese rule” was one headline — merely backs up the Umno agenda.
Three main questions come to mind from the survey findings, as reported by MalaysiaKini and Malaysian Insider.
- Are findings representative of Penang Malays as a whole or just among Malays in Umno strongholds?
- Have the Penang state government and Pakatan Rakyat leaders in Penang done enough to project themselves and the state government?
- Has Lim Guan Eng dominated news coverage to the extent that the state government and other Pakatan Rakyat leaders have been in his shadow?
- Are the findings about Penang Malays or of Umno Malays?
- Did the Penang government leaders effectively present themselves?
- Did Lim Guan Eng overshadow everyone else?
The survey was carried out among residents of three Umno-held constituencies:
• Kepala Batas, whose MP is Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, former prime minister, re-elected in 2008 with a sizeable though reduced majority;
• Tasek Gelugor, whose MP is Nor Mohamed Yakcop, former finance minister, elected with a large but smaller majority than his predecessor; and
• Bayan Lepas, whose assemblyman is Syed Amerruddin Dato’ Syed Ahmad, re-elected by just 400 votes in 2008.
Kepala Batas and Tasek Gelugor are the only two Umno-held parliamentary constituencies in Penang. The six state constituencies under them were also won by Umno. Bayan Lepas is one of three Umno-held state seats in the Balik Pulau parliamentary constituency on the island although Balik Pulau voters narrowly elected Yusmaidi Mohd Yusof of PKR to be their MP by 780 votes.
So these areas in general already have a strong Umno following and pro-Umno sympathies.
The survey took place in seven state constituencies out of 40. None of the other mixed-seat constituencies or PKR-held seats was covered.
Can their views be held to be representative of the rest of Penang Malays who live in PKR-held or DAP-held constituencies?
With the mass media controlled by Umno and MCA, the state itself has to fall back on billboards, flyers, and newsletters (which sometimes can be seen uncollected by the dozen in shopping centres and other places) while the population is subjected to the barrage of anti-Pakatan and anti-DAP propaganda, plus news about organised demonstrations.
Much of the state’s publicity efforts then rely on the local Chinese-language press. But few of the non-Chinese Pakatan officials would get much space there, and even if they did, the Malay population would not be able to read them anyway. And it adds to the perception of a “Chinese government”.
As Chief Minister, Lim Guan Eng gets the lion’s share of publicity. Press people also often talk of how many times he would call for a press conference, sometimes within a day. He is also prominent in national politics, such as the Sarawak state elections. (Penang voters might have felt aggrieved that their chief minister was not administering the state, for which he is paid, and instead was out on the campaign trail for his party.)
His supporters are everywhere on the Internet, attributing the state’s success to him. But where are the rest of the state administration in the news or on the Internet? Where is deputy chief minister Mansor Othman? Where is deputy chief minister Prof P Ramasamy? Where is executive councillor Chow Kon Yeow? Where is Yusmadi, the MP for Balik Pulau? Where is Tunku Aziz Ibrahim, the Senator for Penang, speaking on Penang affairs? There is very little talk about them, and they do not seem to have views on Penang.
There is a question of how active Pakatan politicians and their supporters have been in shaping perception about the state government and to what effect .
To that extent, DAP supporters in their zeal and hero-worship of their “humble, approachable, down to earth chief minister” may be to blame, too. The more often they project Lim Guan Eng alone the more likely the state government will be seen to be “a Chinese government”.
The survey findings
- The Umno-controlled mass media succeeded in demonising the Penang government as a largely Chinese government and Lim Guan Eng “as a Chinese who is threatening the Malays”
- The state government was seen to be a “Chinese or DAP government” rather than a Pakatan Rakyat government.
- PKR and PAS, the junior partners in the Pakatan government, came off poorly in the survey. PKR was viewed as a multiracial party and thus incapable of helping the Malay people of Penang, while PAS was taken to be puppets of the DAP.