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Can Muda turn social media support to numbers at the ballot box?

The youth-based party which is contesting an election for the first time in Johor will have its work cut out for it, analysts say.

Ahmad Mustakim Zulkifli
4 minute read
Muda president Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman (fifth right) gives a thumbs up sign alongside other members of the Supreme Council at the party's launching ceremony in Kuala Lumpur on Feb 11. Photo: Bernama
Muda president Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman (fifth right) gives a thumbs up sign alongside other members of the Supreme Council at the party's launching ceremony in Kuala Lumpur on Feb 11. Photo: Bernama

The upcoming Johor state polls will show whether Muda’s popularity on social media translates into votes come March 12, analysts say, commenting on the youth-based party’s maiden attempt to contest an election.

Muda, led by Muar MP Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman, enters the fray having achieved an understanding with Pakatan Harapan (PH), represented by DAP and Amanah, although similar talks failed with PH lynchpin party PKR which will be contesting the election using its own logo.

Muda has said that it will field candidates in the state constituencies of Tenang, Parit Raja, Puteri Wangsa, Larkin, Bukit Kepong, Bukit Permai and Machap.

It was formally registered on Dec 29 last year by Syed Saddiq, the former Bersatu Youth chief. Since its inception, it has been utilising social media platforms for its public communications and was especially active during the floods which hit several states including the Klang Valley last year.

The question now is whether its support online can materialise at the ballot box.

Shafizan Mohamed of the International Islamic University Malaysia said while social media has both influence and reach, this does not necessarily mean strong support from voters.

“Social media is like an echo chamber, where only those who agree with Muda’s stands follow the party on its platforms,” the communications lecturer told MalaysiaNow.

While the same goes for political parties in general, she said, Muda’s challenge lies in the fact that the demographic of its supporters is relatively small.

As not all youth are interested in politics, she said, how many Muda can attract to its cause remains a question.

Shafizan said despite the hype about the power of social media, many other factors also play a role in influencing voter behaviour.

“Some voters have decided even before the election, and others will decide only when they go to vote.

“It will also depend on the current issues. Can a party like Muda, for example, provide solutions to these issues?

“If they are unable to show themselves capable, it will not matter if they are popular online,” she said.

No automatic support for Muda

Oh Ei Sun, a senior fellow at the Singapore Institute of International Affairs, said Muda is banking on two groups of potential voters.

“First, the erstwhile PH supporters who didn’t bother to vote in Melaka and Sarawak,” he said, referring to the state elections in November and December last year.

“Another cohort of voters they are courting is the Undi 18, together with the automatically registered voters,” he said.

“Between these two groups, they have more hope with the first one.”

Undi 18 refers to those who are newly able to vote, after the lowering of the minimum age from 21 to 18.

Oh said this group would not automatically support Muda as their turnout was still uncertain for the time being.

“They are not very enamoured in politics and thereby in coming out to vote,” he said.

“Even if they do, they are young voters who are not necessarily progressive or opposition-minded.”

As for those who had received a conservative education, he said, they might vote for Umno, Bersatu or PAS if they did turn out on polling day.

Shafizan meanwhile said that the sentiments of voters and target groups would differ from election to election.

While problems of corruption and leadership could be raised at general elections, she said, state elections require candidates to focus on local issues.

“Not all political parties have the ability to go down and meet the people and understand their issues, especially the new ones,” she said.

“They might have some kind of standing during general elections because they can rely on populist sentiments, but for state and by-elections, it will be hard for them because they have very weak grassroots support.”

Under the agreement reached with Muda, DAP and Amanah will stay out of the seats previously contested by Bersatu at the 2018 general election.

However, Muda will clash with PKR in the state seat of Larkin as it was unable to reach a consensus with the party led by opposition chief Anwar Ibrahim.

Oh said Muda could win several of the seats it contests as Malay voters might not be comfortable with supporting DAP and Amanah.

Not popular in rural areas

Mazlan Ali of Universiti Teknologi Malaysia said support for the party could materialise if outstation voters return for polling day.

“Muda is not popular with the voters in rural areas, even the youth there,” he said.

“Syed Saddiq’s popularity lies among the netizens. If outstation voters return, Muda will get some support.”

Mazlan said Muda could receive support at the ballot box from young voters but only if it works with PH.

“If it contests alone, Muda will lose,” he said.

Shafizan meanwhile said that social media impacts are short-term in nature, useful for mobilising the masses but not for maintaining support.

She said this made it dangerous for political parties to depend entirely on social media.

“Politicians still need to build social capital,” she said. “They must have strong engagement and relations with voters.

“They need to have a strong grassroots. In that aspect, Muda is not yet mature.”