New media and old politics: The role of blogging in the 2008 Malaysian general election
Hah, Foong Lian
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameDoctor of Philosophy
This thesis argues that blogging can open up a space for free speech and, at times, facilitate wider debate in the relatively authoritarian society of Malaysia. At the same time, blogging is heavily shaped by the prevailing elite groups and political culture in Malaysian politics. The thesis finds that blogging is able to facilitate the forming of a network of alternative or dissenting views but it can also be dominated by existing elite groups in society. The majority of bloggers are highly educated professionals and many of them are media and political elites. The use of blogging by some civil society and partisan bloggers, particularly pro-UMNO bloggers, to remove political rivals by staging a form of “psychological warfare” points to a dominance of factional politics within UMNO in the Malaysian blogosphere during the 2008 general election. Thus, blogging does provide a space for certain liberal democratic practices but it also reflects existing elite groups and political culture in the country. This thesis also argues that blogging does bring about new ways of campaigning in electoral politics. The use of blogging as part of campaigning among opposition politicians is, however, influenced by the wider institutional and societal structures in society. The findings reveal that blogging can provide a space for mobilising political action. It also allows opposition politicians to disseminate information on campaign activities and promote electoral candidates but blogging loses its appeal among politician-bloggers during the campaigning period. Blogging, thus, does not have a simple across-the-board function of promoting liberal democratic practices and transforming new ways of campaigning in electoral politics. This thesis concludes that an examination of blogging has to be situated within its particular social and political environment in order to obtain a more comprehensive understanding of its influence on democracy and political life.