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The flip side of Anwar's PR blitz

While no effort seems to have been spared in promoting his new image as the prime minister, the build-up of expectations could backfire, a communications expert warns.

Ahmad Mustakim Zulkifli & Nur Hasliza Mohd Salleh
2 minute read

A communications expert has warned that the public relations blitz which began shortly after Anwar Ibrahim took his oath of office as prime minister may backfire on the Pakatan Harapan (PH) chairman if he fails to live up to the image being promoted to the people. 

Anwar's swearing-in ceremony, which took place on Nov 24 last year, was followed by pictures on social media showing piles of papers and files on his desk, and posts on how the new prime minister was keeping his nose to the grindstone, even on weekends. 

The PH communications team, meanwhile, appears to have been working double time to promote its chairman to internet users. 

Seasoned public relations expert Syed Arabi Syed Abdullah Idid said such efforts were needed as Anwar had for two decades been known as the opposition leader. 

"Now that he has been made the prime minister, he has to project the image of a prime minister, which is very different from the image of an opposition chief," Syed Arabi, a communications professor at the International Islamic University Malaysia, added. 

"He needs to show that he is a man of authority, who cares for the people and is at ease with the royals and the civil service." 

But while such publicity efforts would bear fruit, he said, Anwar would need to show proof of his achievements within the next few months.

"The real test will come when he presents the budget," he said. 

"Will it be better than the budget of Ismail Sabri Yaakob?"

Anwar, who also holds the finance portfolio, is slated to present the 2023 budget in February, after tabling a so-called mini budget last month. 

Syed Arabi, who has studied political campaigns spanning several general elections, also said that the footage of Anwar hard at work could have been released to fend off the criticism of former prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad, who recently voiced doubts about the ability of the PKR president to lead the country. 

He said many of Anwar's statements were geared towards grabbing attention, although in the long run, he would need to take care as a prime minister's remarks have implications for the country. 

"Voters will look at his statements now and ask what the consequences of these are," he said. 

"They want to see his programmes and the execution of these. We will have to wait and see." 

On efforts by the PH communications team to emphasise even measures taken by previous prime ministers, Syed Arabi said Anwar's communications team appeared more proficient in social media use than that of his immediate predecessor, Ismail.

"Ismail did not appear to have support even from his own Cabinet," he added. 

"He would make statements, but receive no support. His Cabinet did not look like it was working as a team." 

He nonetheless reiterated that the build-up of expectations was a double-edged sword. 

"If Anwar and his Cabinet do not live up to these expectations, it will backfire on them," he said. 

"This is what happened to PH 1.0," he added, referring to the previous PH administration led by Mahathir which collapsed after 22 months in power.