MARCH 13, 2004 SAT

With 10 million Malaysians carrying cellphones, campaigners have a new way to get their message across

Let the SMS battle begin

KUALA LUMPUR - Mobile phones have become the latest battleground in the election, with IT-savvy political parties sending tens of thousands of messages daily to woo voters ahead of the March 21 poll.
Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi's Barisan coalition and its key rival, the hardline Islamic party PAS, are harnessing the power of the Short Message Service (SMS) to reach out especially to urban professionals, making this election the most technology-driven.
From the 37th floor of the United Malays National Organisation (Umno) building, members of the party's youth wings hunched behind computers are sending out some 50,000 SMS daily to tell Malaysians why Datuk Seri Abdullah should be supported.
'Vote for the PM who says 'Work with me and we will work for you',' read an SMS.
PAS has also jumped on the SMS bandwagon, urging the people to 'vote for a new Malaysia'.
Said senior PAS official Mohamad Hatta Ramli: 'We have been shut out of the mainstream media, so campaigning through the SMS gives us an edge to reach out, especially to the middle-class and educated community.'
Some 10 million out of Malaysia's 25 million people carry mobile phones and the number is growing.
Besides SMS, both opposition and BN parties are expected to use various media, especially the Internet, as well as the usual fliers, posters and party literature.
In addition, full-page advertorials which look like news articles and have quotes from the Menteris Besar of Pahang and Negeri Sembilan have also appeared in The New Straits Times.
This time, the Barisan coalition is taking a 'Clean, Soft And Kind' approach to political advertising - 'clean' means no blatant or crude attacks, 'soft' means subtle and 'kind' means gentle and informative.
The move will be a departure from the 1999 general election when agencies hired to do the commercials used a 'sledgehammer' approach.
Many people considered the advertisements distasteful and were turned off by them.
BN officials say chairman Abdullah Badawi has asked advertising agencies to prepare 'a clean campaign'.
'Abdullah himself does not believe in personal attacks,' one BN official said.
'He believes that Malaysians have come a long way and the paternalistic approach taken in the past of talking and preaching down is insulting to their intelligence.'
But old habits die hard.
Some television programmes have been running lengthy 'news' segments, titled Bersama Pak Lah (together with Pak Lah), extolling the virtues and achievements of the Premier in a none-too-subtle fashion. -- AFP, New Straits Times

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