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Tie a yellow ribbon…

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Yeoh Seng Guan reports on the widespread use of political merchandising and the internet during the ongoing Philippines election campaign and wonders if we will see the same kind of blitz during the next Malaysian general election.

I was in the Philippines recently (in early April) for work. Walking around the streets near to where I was accommodated in Loyola Heights, Quezon City, I couldn’t help but notice the ubiquitous presence of election posters despite the polls scheduled to be held more than a month away (on 10 May). Election regulations prohibit the hanging of political “propaganda” on the main expressways (photo above) where giant commercial billboards dominate instead.

But off these thoroughfares, there is an explosion of posters bearing the beaming portraits of candidates, some of whom look more like movie stars and models rather than staid politicians. Compared to Malaysia, the range of electoral choices is staggering. Currently, there are 85,000 candidates vying for 17,000 national and local positions.

Besides posters, the better cash-endowed candidates have turned to adverts on television. Cursorily, some of them strike me as rather personality rather than issue-driven. One of these political commercials has a catchy tune sung by chirpy slum children (presumably) desiring to escape hardship and poverty, and they embrace presidential hopeful Senator Manny Villar (Nacionalista Party) at the end of the clip. Although coming from a modest background, Villar made his wealth through real estate, an important entrepreneurial point in his campaign to garner the votes of large segments of the Filipino populace still mired in poverty.

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Villar’s main rival to the presidency is Noynoy Aquino of the Liberal Party (photo left). Son of the politically illustrious Aquino family (photo below), Noynoy Aquino currently leads by nearly double digit points, his popularity bolstered by the groundswell of goodwill towards his late mother, Cory Aquino, who is closely associated with People Power and the overthrow of the dictatorial Marcos regime in the mid-1980s.

In the milieu of advertising literacy and the powerful reach of new media especially to the young voters, political merchandising and the internet have become almost de rigueur in branding and messaging. In the case of Noynoy Aquino, it is the yellow ribbon, yellow T-shirt, yellow wristband and the iconic L-hand sign. His blog has the full range of new media applications including Twitter, Youtube, Friendster, Multiply, Flickr and even Webcomics to enhance a mediated familiarisation of his personality and political stance over a broad range of issues affecting the country.

aquino familyWith our own media blitz over 1Malaysia and many of our political leaders across the spectrum setting up Facebook accounts in the aftermath of the “political tsunami” of 8 March 2008, should we expect any less in the next General Elections in Malaysia? Optimistically, these new technological developments will require political aspirants to be equally colourful and substantively forthright about their personal views on a range of important issues that affect the common fabric of the nation. One lives in hope…

Yeoh Seng Guan is an Aliran member.

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