04 September 2009

Umno + Sopo Bloggers = Hope for the 13th General Elections

WITH the present Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, it is interesting to observe how the new status quo leaderships at the nation’s pinnacle and ruling UMNO were clearly bent at mobilising the local blogging community – to be exact, socio-political bloggers, better known as sopo bloggers – to be an integral part of efforts to re-capture lost grounds in the wake of the so-called opposition tsunami of post 12th General Elections Malaysia.
No less than deputy premier, Muhyiddin Mohd Yassin – whose adroit handling of scarcely popular former Prime Minister and UMNO president, Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, stirred an unprecedented grassroot support within the party during its March, 2008 leaderships elections – have slotted a grand buka puasa event with the local sopo bloggers come September 8.
To be held at the mammoth Merdeka Hall of Kuala Lumpur’s Putra World Trade Centre (PWTC) – the same hall where delegates to the party’s grandiose AGMs have been congregating year in and year out since the late 1980s – the event was expected to be unprecedented.
A day earlier, the deputy UMNO supremo was also scheduled to fete grassroots members from the party’s various formations and wings in the same Ramadan function, minus the fact that the event was scheduled to be held at the comparatively minuscule Tun Hussein Hall of the same party-owned international standard exhibition and conference complex.
Why sopo bloggers, then?
Well, if it isn’t for an independent global communication consultancy engaged by the relatively infantile Najib administration to help re-brand his national establishment, and the party, in facing up to the 13th General Elections, sopo bloggers like Atok would still be conveniently brushed aside by the conservative and, sometimes, excessively xenophobic, status quo politicians within UMNO, as mere annoyance, just like the pesky agas or sandfly.
Now, it was understood that the DC-based global spin outfit, APCO Worldwide – that include former George W. Bush’s White House press secretary, Scott McClellan; Poland’s former President, Alexsander Kwasniewski; and Darren Murphy, ex-advisor at Tony Blair’s No.10, Downing Street, amongst its multinational employees worldwide – are looking at reversing the momentous public relations gains of the Malaysian opposition before and after the 12th General Elections, by working in tandem with the local sopo blogging community.
With offices in 24 major cities throughout the Americas, Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Asia, and clients that include seven of the top 10 companies on Fortune’s Global 500, APCO received several prestigious trade accolades in the United States and Europe, and these include 2007 PR Agency of the Year by the US PR News; 2007, 2006 and 2005 European Consultancy of the Year by Public Affairs News; and 2004 Public Affairs Agency of the Year by the Holmes Report.
The need to work together with local sopos can be understood from a 2007 joint study between APCO Worlwide and the American Council of Public Relations Firms (The Council), which proved that PR professionals who understand the blogger “culture” are having more success in communicating in this online channel than those who do not.
“In turn, bloggers who are engaging with savvy, well-informed communicators have richer material to share with their readers,” noted the APCO/The Council study.
Based on such groundbreaking study, APCO’s mission on behalf of the Najib administration is therefore expected to centre upon creating an amicable working relationships between the status quo PR machinery and sopo bloggers. And as part of an effort to achieve that, APCO has introduced Best Practices website for PR practitioners and bloggers, Blogger Outreach (please click the site on this blog spot’s Kerabat list).
Meanwhile, observers close to Malaysia’s national security bureaucracy have long attributed the dismal showing by the ruling Barisan Nasional since the March 8, 2008 national elections to strings of “bad press” brought on by an advent of popular alternative cyber media, particularly the local sopo blogosphere.
They have now learn to accept the fact that in the run up to that decisive general elections, certain sopo sites with glaring anti-establishment themes have attained a folk hero stature of sort, practically overnight.
Whilst this was happening, the traditionally submissive and reactionary UMNO grassroots are also showing signs that they have at long last been rudely awakened to the imminent realities that surrounds their hitherto seemingly invincible psycho-political sanctuary.
Since its temporary deregistration by the Kuala Lumpur High Court in 1987, the sixty-something United Malays National Organisation, post 12th General Elections, was awakened by a spectre of the now self-generating democratic empowerment of the grassroots, within and without the party.