Najib’s Twitter Following Grows

By Friday February 3rd, 2012 No Comments

As election fever heats up in Malaysia, it seems that Prime Minister Najib Razak’s “cool” offensive is starting to pay off – at least on the social networking site Twitter.

Mr. Najib now has more than 419,000 followers on the micro-blogging site – the most of any Malaysian politician and more than three times the number of those following his rival, opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, whose opposition credentials have typically made him more favorable to young, Internet-savvy voters.

It’s not just the number of Twitter users following Mr. Najib, though, that’s getting attention. The effusive praise from some of his Twitter fans is also turning heads, though it’s hard to know how deep the support runs.

“You are definitely the coolest Prime Minister so far!” tweeted 18 year-old Amni Yusoff (@4MN1) to the leader of his country, to which Mr. Najib replied: “Not sure about being the coolest PM ever but I just want to engage with the young people in a way that they understand.”

Twitter user @Afiqalalala asked the Prime Minister for more public holidays. Mr. Najib replied to that tweet, too, saying “Malaysians should work harder n not ask for more holidays!”

Malaysia’s leader joined the social networking site in September 2008, when he was the country’s deputy prime minister and somewhat before Twitter reached its current popularity as a tool for campaigning, news, politics and everything in between. During his initial months as prime minister, tweets were limited to official statements and updates, until early 2011 when Mr. Najib started responding directly to his Twitter followers.

Mr. Najib also uses Twitter as a testing ground and tracking tool for his policies, tweeting: “Students, have you redeemed the RM200 book voucher? Let me know through my poll,” a reference to a one-off handout of book vouchers to university students.

Analysts say his social media policy – much like the one-off hand-outs to university students and lower income groups – are easy ways to create a “feel-good” factor around the upcoming elections, and build something of a cult of personality, insofar as that’s possible.

Personality politics is “one of the most important things” during an election, said Prof. Shamsul Amri Baharuddin, a professor of social anthropology at Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (National University of Malaysia), who believes that the electorate often trusts politicians based more on personality than party.

The Prime Minister, too, seems to have picked up on his popularity among some in the country. He retweeted a tweet from @AmerThor, who wrote: “#YouAreTheReason Malaysia continues to progress and peace always… Thankz @NajibRazak,” using one of the social networking site’s top trending “hashtags” of the day.

In part because they must court a large rural population that’s more concerned about bread-and-butter issues like rising inflation and the availability of jobs, Malaysian politicians historically have tended to neglect the Internet crowd, analysts say. But now those voters are emerging as a swing demographic in upcoming general elections that must be called by early 2013. Traditionally, Malaysians who are active on social media forums and on political blogs and websites – which are typically more free-wheeling than Malaysia’s print media – have been younger, more vocal and largely pro-opposition.

In 2008, Mr. Najib’s ruling United Malays National Organization (UMNO) lost its long-held two-thirds majority in parliament. Since then, the 58-year-old leader has tried to make himself more accessible, positioning himself as a moderate leader firmly in the middle ground of Malaysian politics – a move some say is the only viable way to lead in the highly-polarized country, divided along ethnic lines.

Mr. Najib, also president of UMNO, Malaysia’s ruling party, has also used Facebook to engage the country’s ethnic Chinese voters. Two weeks ago, he launched a Chinese-language Facebook fan page, just in time for Chinese New Year calling himself “Ah Jib Gor” or Brother Najib. Mr. Anwar’s team quickly got in on the action, launching his own Facebook fan page in Mandarin Chinese on which he calls himself “Ah Wah Gor,” or Brother Anwar.

At least in Chinese, though, Mr. Anwar appears to have a little more support that the incumbent Mr. Najib – with almost 43,000 “likes” compared to the Prime Minister’s 22, 321 (as of Friday). Both politicians are wooing ethnic-Chinese voters – who make up a quarter of the population – by pledging reforms to the affirmative-action politics that have afforded the country’s Malay community a leg up in Malaysia for decades.

Source : The Wall Street Journal

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