PETALING JAYA: A record level of online mud-slinging is expected during the 14th General Election (GE14), according to two former top Election Commission (EC) officials.
Fake news, slander and divisive racial and religious issues that spread rapidly via social media would be a challenge in GE14, they added.
They said the EC should also brace for possible “last-minute bombshells” such as the claim made a day before polling in GE13 that 40,000 Bangladeshis had been flown in to vote, which turned out to be fake news.
Tan Sri Abdul Aziz Mohd Yusof, who was EC chairman from 2008 to 2016, said the spread of fake information via Facebook, WhatsApp, Telegram and Twitter to sway voter sentiment posed a major challenge.
“In the past, election issues were more focused on allegations of cheating, corruption and the like but for GE14, I see that these will have added elements of slander, race, religion and integrity.
“Issues such as corruption, abuse of power and other hot topics are part of the political agenda of (some candidates) and will continue to circulate during GE14,” Aziz said.
He added that the trend was caused by a combination of two factors.
The first is a rapid advance in communications technology, and the second is increasingly competitive general elections in Malaysia.
“In the past, general elections were more respectful, with candidates trying to convince voters they are the better choice,” Aziz said.
“Nowadays, the tendency is to attack opponents in a bid to get voters angry.”
He added that the challenges his successor Tan Sri Mohd Hashim Abdullah would face in GE14 would be different from the ones he faced in GE13.
However, he was confident that under Mohd Hashim, the EC would be able to carry out its duties fairly and transparently.
Former EC deputy chairman Datuk Seri Wan Ahmad Wan Omar, meanwhile, said the commission should expect allegations similar to the one about Bangladeshis voting to emerge in GE14.
“There could be some bombshell, some major allegation at the last minute before polling, which will leave a lot of people – including the EC – with almost no time to plan a response,” he said.
Wan Ahmad, who was EC secretary from 1998 to 2004 before being appointed deputy chairman from 2004 to 2013, reckoned that such a tactic could be part of a political strategy to influence the voting psychology of undecided voters.
He added that in 2013, the EC ordered its staff and volunteers to be on the lookout for any Bangladeshi trying to vote with fake MyKad as soon as it heard about the allegation.
However, not a single arrest was made on polling day, proving the allegation false.
“With social media, one can spread all sorts of allegations very quickly and while someone who has voted many times before may know better than to fall for such tricks, the less-informed and first-time voters especially will be taken in,” he said.
According to Mohd Hashim, there were no specific rules on social media campaigning under election laws.
“All general rules and laws on the do’s and don’ts are applicable, such as laws on media, sedition, Penal Code and others,” he said.