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Sunday November 26, 2006

Cyberspace talent search


The DAP’s search for new faces as candidates in the next general election has extended into cyberspace and these may range from an Oxford graduate to a well-known blogger, writes JOCELINE TAN. 

LIM Kit Siang is reportedly the first politician to have his own website. Last year, on no less than Merdeka day, he started his own blog. 

More than 100 comments flooded in within 24 hours, a number of them asking whether it was really him blogging. 

He replied in his typically stylised way: “For folks who asked whether I am I, yes I am.” 

YOUNG BLOOD: The Sarawak election was an eye-opener for the DAP on what fresh, new faces could do for the party. From right, Ting Tze Fui, Chong Chieng Jen and Violet Yong are new additions to the Sarawak Legislative Assembly.
Lim is what his party colleague and Cheras MP Tan Kok Wai calls “a political astronaut in cyberspace.” He spends much of his time glued to his computer. 

Cyberspace has been a boon to tech-savvy politicians like Lim, allowing them unfettered freedom to air their views and reach a new category of people. 

But over the last year, bloggers – especially those who are politically inclined – have also become a potential source of new talent or even general election candidates. 

One of them, said DAP sources, is none other than Jeff Ooi, who is touted as “Malaysia’s most influential blogger” and whose “Screenshots” blog is now in its sixth year. 

The effervescent Ooi was one of the speakers at a DAP forum dissecting the three-year-old administration of Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi. 

All the panellists – Ooi, Sharizal Shaarani, Tony Pua, Nik Nazmi Nik Ahmad and Lim Kit Siang – were bloggers. The only exception was Khoo Kay Peng, who is a political analyst. 

Ooi: Will the famous blogger join the line-up?
The gathering was a statement of how bloggers have become the new voices for political discourse. 

“The force is with the bloggers,” a member of the audience, presumably of the Star Wars generation, later commented. 

And it says a lot about the opposition party’s creativity in taking their politics to the Internet and the community of political bloggers. 

But Ooi is not the only blogger being courted by DAP leaders. 

Pua, 34, whose blog carries intelligent opinions on education issues, is also on their radar screen. On top of that, he is an Oxford graduate and CEO of a public-listed company. 

He is what one would call “a real catch” in the game of courtship. And he is said to be willing and ready. 

Ooi, who is actually a Gerakan member, seems neither as willing nor as ready. He insisted “it’s too premature at this point.” 

The party is also keen on lawyer Nik Nazmi but he is, to borrow another term of courtship, spoken for. He is said to be inclined towards Parti Keadilan Rakyat. 

“These people improve the level of political debate. You can see it in the way they argue out things, the quality of their views,” said DAP central executive committee member Ronnie Liu. 

Of course, the DAP would love to have Khoo on their list but he prefers the role of an independent observer. 

In fact, Khoo is already seen as an emerging intellectual, someone who articulates public issues in an honest and impartial way. 

POOL OF NEW BLOOD 

But cyberspace talent-spotting is only one side of the DAP preparations for the polls. 

Pua: The Oxford graduate is a real catch.
It has also been quietly grooming a discernible group of young people over the past few years. It is said that secretary-general Lim Guan Eng is entrusted with the task. 

“The country will be 50 next year. It’s time the new generation takes up the challenge,” he said. 

The next general election will also be his first since serving his prison term. It will be a test of his leadership as secretary-general and of his popularity on the ground. 

Given that, he will want a credible line-up that will help boost the number of DAP wakil rakyat as well as move the quality of representation to a new level. 

A number among their pool of young talent are already working part-time or full-time for the party. 

One of them is Liew Chin Tong, 29, a graduate of the Australian National University. 

“People around my age, in their late 20s and early 30s, are referred to as the cyber generation. We’re not satisfied with just sitting there and letting things pass by. We want to make a difference,” said Liew, who is currently a visiting fellow at the Institute of South-East Asian Studies, Singapore. 

According to Anthony Loke, 29, a first-term assemblyman for Lobak in Negri Sembilan, the DAP has about 20% new faces every general election. 

“It’s not just about age. The leadership looks for people who have a point of view and who are committed to political ideals,” he said. 

Said Cheras MP Tan: “Many of them join us because they are fed-up with the way the country’s affairs are being handled. We tell them that if they want to change things, it is most effective done from the inside.” 

The May state polls in Sarawak was an eye-opener for the DAP on what fresh, new faces could do for the party. 

It was evident that given the right ground sentiments, voters were willing to give new blood a chance, and more so if they had respectable educational credentials. Two fresh-faced women lawyers won despite their inexperience. 

Earlier on, in the 2004 parliamentary polls, lawyer Chong Chieng Jen had led the way when he took the prestigious Bandar Kuching seat. 

Chong’s parents were staunch DAP supporters and he has a winning smile, but he also holds double degrees in economics and law from an Australian university. 

There has been concern over the way the Government has handled social and political issues, and a great deal of dissatisfaction with cost-of-living issues. The racial rhetoric at the Umno general assembly has not helped. 

The DAP will be the main beneficiary of the discontent in urban constituencies, hence the effort to headhunt new talent. 

The push to impress with a highly qualified line-up is likely to manifest in Penang, which has re-emerged as the frontline state for the DAP after dismal results in the last two general elections. 

Everyone is talking about the younger Lim moving from his Malacca base to Penang to lead the charge.  

Or to borrow a line from the favourite Hokkien song of DAP supporters in Penang, it will be a case of “ai pia jia ay nyia” (you have to go all out to win). 

The English-speaking political bloggers have their own rallying song, as evident from the clip that Sharizal posted on You Tube: it played with the catchy song “You can get it if you really want” by Jimmy Cliff. 

Lim Jr has, naturally, denied any move to Penang. He claimed it was Gerakan propaganda to make their own party members work harder. 

But can there be smoke without fire? 

“The Gerakan people are doing the smoking, not us,” he quipped. 

Despite the smoke, it is clear the next general election will see the DAP “pia” (go all out) with a line-up that includes well-qualified and interesting faces.  

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