Wednesday, 30 April 2008

Election 2008 – What Role did the Alternative Media Play? (My Take)

Yesterday’s news yes, but I am desperately trying to avoid work so I will indulge myself. Here goes:

Early morning 9 March, I joked that the election bookies’ books just went subprime, hit by a black swan. No one quite honestly expected the results. Ex-post, many pundits put weights on many reasons as to why it happened. One of them is the role of the alternative media (AM); bloggers, Malaysiakini, etc. The usual explanation is that it provided unbiased information to the people and empowered them with knowledge to cast their votes decisively. To some extent, it is true I guess. But here, I offer a different explanation – AM acted as a new channel that helped to coordinate people’s beliefs, eventually leading to a leap in equilibrium.


Will throw in a simplifying model to help the exposition. Firstly, there are i potential voters, with their “willingness to vote” denoted by Vi. Here is the important bit, Vi is taken to be:

Vi = f(
qi , E[Q-j | I] )


  • qi is voter i’s individual drive to vote,
  • Q-j is sum of qj, j not i
  • I is information available to i

Basically, this means that any single voter’s “willingness to vote” is dependent on two factors: his innate drive,
qi, to vote and his belief of others' drive to vote conditional to the information that he has, E[Q-j | I]. It is taken that the innate drive is fixed for an individual but varies across individuals – that is you have some people with high qi , like say, Nat Tan, and many people with low’ish level of qi , perhaps like your apathetic cubicle-mate. Then, there is E[Q-j | I] which basically says that a voter’s willingness to vote depends on others’ willingness as well.

A rough example would clarify things further. Consider the KL Freeze that happened not too long ago. Your decision to freeze in the middle of Pavilion would be dependent on your wackiness level, and if you believe others will be freezing too. For example, if you belief no one will freeze, unless you are superbly wacky, you won’t really be too keen to freeze alone in public. If you believe 5 people will be freezing too, then you might be tempted to join in if you are sufficiently wacky, or not if you are not. If you believe 100 people will be freezing, chances are you will be freezing too even if you are wacky at a normal level.

Here is the cool part – now consider the collective level. If you believe that 100 other people will be freezing, you will freeze too. At the same time, every individual from the 100 people believe that the other 99 plus you will be freezing, then in total, 101 will be freezing. Self-fulfilling prophecy at work. Then consider that there is another individual who is wacky at a slightly less than normal level, say, she will only freeze if she believes 101 people will freeze. Now, she will freeze too, since you decided to freeze. Then consider another person who is even less wacky who will only freeze if 102 people do the same. Given the person before will be doing it, and he believes she will do so, then he would freeze as well. And so on, so forth as the cascading effect continues.

This explains how a group of very different individuals could end up all freezing as long as there are sufficient people who are wacky enough. Call a tipping point, leap in equilibrium or critical mass cascade if you want. Note however this might not always apply. If the group of people has 1 extremely wacky guy who will always freeze and the rest being much less wackier who will only freeze if more than 20 people are going to freeze. In this case, the wacky could freeze all he wants, and he won’t be able to compel next guy to freeze too, so no cascading effect will happen. Unless, of course, everyone in the group could coordinate before hand, and make sure everyone freezes.

How does this Relate to the Election? (Coordination)

Well, I guess the KL Freeze example is sufficiently clear to suggest how this relates to the election. Assume that there are many potential voters whose qi is such that they are leaning towards voting the opposition (you can think of all the reasons why). However, in the initial condition, E[Q-j | I] is such that most believe that the other guy won’t be voting for the opposition, or won’t be voting period. Most expected BN to win even if they put in baked potatoes as candidates (and they did in some cases…) in the initial state. This is due to the I bit of the equation – everyone has a prior belief that nothing will change even if they vote because everyone else won’t be doing the same anyway, so their overall willingness to vote is low, even if their innate willingness is there.

Now this is where AM comes in – they updated people’s E[
Q-j | I] by updating I. At first, some vocal bloggers started to blog about his intention and willingness to vote, providing a signal to the rest of people that Q-j could be higher than expected. And using the same analogy as the KL Freeze above, this led to the next slightly less vocal person to voice out too and signal to others, and the chain reaction began, creating a ripple effect that eventually turned I, hence E[Q-j | I] upside down. Starting from mushrooming of individual blogs revealing people’s dissatisfaction and willingness to vote, to Youtube videos of tens of thousands of Bersih/Hindraf protestors on the street getting shot by water cannons, to massive ceramahs by the Pakatan Rakyat such as the Penang ones, the silent majority of the voters were embolden and found themselves not in such lonely company, i.e., E[Q-j | I] tipped from extremely low to sufficiently high[1]. This led to Vi being tipped as well from a low equilibrium to a high one. And thus the black swan was born.

Note how this put the importance into the quantity of people signaling, i.e., lonely under-read blogs matter too. The big hubs of information, like Malaysiakini and MalaysiaToday and so on are important in conveying quality of information perhaps, but the main coordinating effect emphasised in this model is in the commentators, letters to editor and ‘vox populi’ and the such – the Web 2.0 bits of the hubs, as well as the pictures of thousands of people supporting the cause. It is like, oh my gosh, everyone is thinking the same way as I do! And then of course, this updating of I could spill to non-AM realms too through the usual work, family, mamak interactions and so on.

Note that critical in this explanation is how the majority of the voters were leaning towards being dissatisfied with the status quo and wanted change, but just lacked the coordinating incentive to do so in the beginning. Without this, nothing would have happened. Yes, duh.

I mused about Vaclav Havel’s “power of the powerless” late last year, in which a system with the authority hanging on to power without the support of the people is intrinsically fragile:

“…[H]avel urges his fellow citizens to down-play strictly political activity in favor of a strategy he feels will be more successful: cultivating the sphere of truth within individuals in the hope that as this hidden sphere grows, it will becomes an irresistible force that will change society

Perhaps AM helped the cultivation of this hidden sphere more than we thought.


[1] But not sufficiently high in provoking a jump into another low equilibrium due to complacency.


Shawn Tan said...

Summary: people have no free will.

Ah Bang From SuaTeng said...

While I am of the view that the opposition coalition (PR) are more transparent, accountable if the ever form a Government, I was wondering of their sheer silence when a local daily mocked Jesus, and Christianity.

The Government under whatever parties cannot de jure, be self-serving, (political) party-serving, and crony-serving but to serve every citizens equally.

Sorry to digress a bit, but this really really matters.

sunshine said...

I like.

oyster cove said...

my email is

can i have yours?

human book said...

List of racial discriminations in Malaysia, practiced by government as well as government agencies. This list is an open secret. Best verified by government itself because it got the statistics.

This list is not in the order of importance, that means the first one on the list is not the most important and the last one on the list does not mean least important.

This list is a common knowledge to a lot of Malaysians, especially those non-malays (Chinese, Ibans, Kadazans, Orang Asli, Tamils, etc) who were being racially discriminated.

Figures in this list are estimates only and please take it as a guide only. Government of Malaysia has the most correct figures. Is government of Malaysia too ashamed to publish their racist acts by publishing racial statistics?

This list cover a period of about 50 years since independence (1957).

List of racial discriminations (Malaysia):

(1) Out of all the 5 major banks, only one bank is multi-racial, the rest are controlled by malays

(2) 99% of Petronas directors are malays

(3) 3% of Petronas employees are Chinese

(4) 99% of 2000 Petronas gasoline stations are owned by malays

(5) 100% all contractors working under Petronas projects must be bumis status

(6) 0% of non-malay staffs is legally required in malay companies. But there must be 30% malay staffs in Chinese companies

(7) 5% of all new intake for government army, nurses, polices, is non-malays

(8) 2% is the present Chinese staff in Royal Malaysian Air Force (RMAF), drop from 40% in 1960

(9) 2% is the percentage of non-malay government servants in Putrajaya. But malays make up 98%

(10) 7% is the percentage of Chinese government servants in the whole government (in 2004), drop from 30% in 1960

(11) 95% of government contracts are given to malays

(12) 100% all business licensees are controlled by malay government e.g. Approved Permits, Taxi Permits, etc

(13) 80% of the Chinese rice millers in Kedah had to be sold to malay controlled Bernas in 1980s. Otherwise, life is make difficult for Chinese rice millers

(14) 100 big companies set up, managed and owned by Chinese Malaysians were taken over by government, and later managed by malays since 1970s e.g. MISC, UMBC, UTC, etc

(15) At least 10 Chinese owned bus companies (throughout Malaysia, throughout 40 years) had to be sold to MARA or other malay transport companies due to rejection by malay authority to Chinese application for bus routes and rejection for their application for new buses

(16) 2 Chinese taxi drivers were barred from driving in Johor Larkin bus station. There are about 30 taxi drivers and 3 are Chinese in October 2004. Spoiling taxi club properties was the reason given

(17) 0 non-malays are allowed to get shop lots in the new Muar bus station (November 2004)

(18) 8000 billion ringgit is the total amount the government channeled to malay pockets through ASB, ASN, MARA, privatisation of government agencies, Tabung Haji etc, through NEP over 34 years period

(19) 48 Chinese primary schools closed down since 1968 - 2000

(20) 144 Indian primary schools closed down since 1968 - 2000

(21) 2637 malay primary schools built since 1968 - 2000

(22) 2.5% is government budget for Chinese primary schools. Indian schools got only 1%, malay schools got 96.5%

(23) While a Chinese parent with RM1000 salary (monthly) cannot get school-text-book-loan, a malay parent with RM2000 salary is eligible

(24) 10 all public universities vice chancellors are malays

(25) 5% - the government universities lecturers of non-malay origins had been reduced from about 70% in 1965 to only 5% in 2004

(26) Only 5% is given to non-malays for government scholarships over 40 years

(27) 0 Chinese or Indians were sent to Japan and Korea under "Look East Policy"

(28) 128 STPM Chinese top students could not get into the course that they aspired e.g. Medicine (in 2004)

(29) 10% place for non-bumi students for MARA science schools beginning from year 2003, but only 7% are filled. Before that it was 100% malays

(30) 50 cases whereby Chinese and Indian Malaysians, are beaten up in the National Service program in 2003

(31) 25% is Malaysian Chinese population in 2004, drop from 45% in 1957

(32) 7% is the present Malaysian Indians population (2004), a drop from 12% in 1957

(33) 2 million Chinese Malaysians had emigrated to overseas since 40 years ago

(34) 0.5 million Indian Malaysians had emigrated to overseas

(35) 3 million Indonesians had migrated into Malaysia and became Malaysian citizens with bumis status

(36) 600000 are the Chinese and Indian Malaysians with red IC and were rejected repeatedly when applying for citizenship for 40 years. Perhaps 60% of them had already passed away due to old age. This shows racism of how easily Indonesians got their citizenship compare with the Chinese and Indians

(37) 5% - 15% discount for a malay to buy a house, regardless whether the malay is poor or rich

(38) 2% is what Chinese new villages get compare with 98% of what malay villages got for rural development budget

(39) 50 road names (at least) had been changed from Chinese names to other names

(40) 1 Dewan Gan Boon Leong (in Malacca) was altered to other name (e.g. Dewan Serbaguna or sort) when it was being officially used for a few days. Government try to shun Chinese names. This racism happened in around year 2000 or sort

(41) 0 churches/temples were built for each housing estate. But every housing estate got at least one mosque/surau built

(42) 3000 mosques/surau were built in all housing estates throughout Malaysia since 1970. No churches, no temples are required to be built in housing estates

(43) 1 Catholic church in Shah Alam took 20 years to apply to be constructed. But told by malay authority that it must look like a factory and not look like a church. Still not yet approved in 2004

(44) 1 publishing of Bible in Iban language banned (in 2002)

(45) 0 of the government TV stations (RTM1, RTM2, TV3) are directors of non-malay origins

(46) 30 government produced TV dramas and films always showed that the bad guys had Chinese face, and the good guys had malay face. You can check it out since 1970s. Recent years, this tendency becomes less

(47) 10 times, at least, malays (especially Umno) had threatened to massacre the Chinese Malaysians using May 13 since 1969

(48) 20 constituencies won by DAP would not get funds from the government to develop. Or these Chinese majority constituencies would be the last to be developed

(49) 100 constituencies (parliaments and states) had been racistly re-delineated so Chinese voters were diluted that Chinese candidates, particularly DAP candidates lost in election since 1970s

(50) Only 3 out of 12 human rights items are ratified by Malaysia government since 1960

(51) 0 - elimination of all forms of racial discrimination (UN Human Rights) is not ratified by Malaysia government since 1960s

(52) 20 reported cases whereby malay ambulance attendances treated Chinese patients inhumanely, and malay government hospital staffs purposely delay attending to Chinese patients in 2003. Unreported cases may be 200

(53) 50 cases each year whereby Chinese, especially Chinese youths being beaten up by malay youths in public places. We may check at police reports provided the police took the report, otherwise there will be no record

(54) 20 cases every year whereby Chinese drivers who accidentally knocked down malays were seriously assaulted or killed by malays

(55) 12% is what ASB/ASN got per annum while banks fixed deposit is only about 3.5% per annum

There are hundreds more racial discriminations in Malaysia to add to this list of "colossal" racism. It is hope that the victims of racism will write in to expose racism.

Malaysia government should publish statistics showing how much malays had benefited from the "special rights" of malays and at the same time tell the statistics of how much other minority races are being discriminated.

Hence, the responsibility lies in the Malaysia government itself to publish unadulterated statistics of racial discrimination.

If the Malaysia government hides the statistics above, then there must be some evil doings, immoral doings, shameful doings and sinful doings, like the Nazi, going on onto the non-malays of Malaysia.

Civilized nation, unlike evil Nazi, must publish statistics to show its treatment on its minority races. This is what Malaysia must publish……….

We are asking for the publication of the statistics showing how "implementation of special rights of malays" had inflicted colossal racial discrimination onto non-malays.

aston said...

New Cabinet:

Prime Minister - Anwar

Deputy Prime Minister - Lim Kit Siang

Culture Minister - Farish Noor

Defence Minister -

Education Minister - Nga Kor Ming

Environment Minister - Teresa Kok

Finance Minister - Tony Pua

Foreign Minister - Ramasamy

Health Minister - Tan Seng Giaw

Home Minister -

Information Minister - Jeff Ooi

Law Minister - Teng Chang Khim

Manpower Minister -

Sports Minister -

Technology Minister -

Trade Minister - Khalid

Transport Minister - Liew Chin Tong

(Penang Chief Minister - Lim Guan Eng)

vokoyo said...

I wish to point out that the Orang Asli, not the malays, are the original inhabitants of Malaysia. Most of the malay Malaysians came from Sumatra and other parts of Indonesia. They only migrated here much earlier than the Chinese and Indian Malaysians. It does not mean they deserve privileges or rights just because they were the pioneer immigrants.

It is true that there have been abuses under the name of malay special rights and it is the duty of the malays in particular, and all Malaysians in general, to stop it so that the rightful malays get their rights, and the non-malays get their rights as citizens of this country.

It is a sad thing to say, but I do believe the main thing that is holding back malays is not the Chinese or the Indians, but the malays themselves. That is why Badawi and Mahathir have been quoted as telling to throw away crutches and work hard to face the challenges of globalisation.

The malay and others of the same mind should learn to stand on their own feet rather than claim for special rights and privileges. The world is becoming globalised and if they don't change their attitude, they will only become beggars in their own country.

As for the malays who insist on hiding behind the veil of malay special rights - you have lost the respect of non-malays a long time ago.

We also suspect that the current situation will, unfortunately, get worse if no action is taken now. Why? Because our kids in school hardly mix with each other. They will grow up with little understanding of their fellow Malaysians, and with the suspicions that exist, it will be worse.

The truth of the matter is that polarisation in Malaysia is caused by the discriminatory practises of the government - especially after the NEP - rather than vernacular education.

The NEP is upheld for the rich and not the poor in Malaysia.

Whether we admit it or not, the problem is that the special rights and privileges given have now resulted in only a selected few malays getting richer and richer. The bulk of the malays, especially in the rural areas are not benefiting from the system.

Poor people are poor people, rich people are rich people - no matter which race they come from.

The poor in Malaysia must be served but I am sure all taxpayers feel that this should be done in a manner which is blind to age, ethnicity, gender and religion.

What is wrong with extending help to all deserving citizens based on merits and needs regardless of race?

The Malaysia problem is that rich do become richer. And because of the political system, the players are the same.

Out of control - this is all I can say about any type of enforcement and the level of corruption in Malaysia. No idea what Badawi has done in his four years in office but judging from the ground, I guess nothing much.

If you have ever heard of the simple saying, "Give a man a fish, he eats for a day, teach him how to fish and he eats for a lifetime." you will realise that many non-malays have learned how to fish but the government is still handing out fishes to the malays. One day the fish will run out.

If you want to say discrimination is here in the US, yes, of course it is. Can you name a country where it doesn't happen? But let me tell you one thing - if you go looking for it, you will find it. But in Malaysia, you don't have to go look for it because it seeks you out, slaps you in your face every which way you turn, and is sanctioned by law!

Official figures have more than one million Chinese Malaysians emigrating over the past 25 years. Why did they emigrate? I am sure the government knows.

For most professionals, living abroad has its own ups and downs. But you get dignity, fair treatment and respect for your ability. You get a voice too. And ears to hear you.

Brain drain by the tank-loads is what we get. Every single year, Malaysia loses people who could potentially contribute to the country immensely.

So malay, you may keep your rights and perpetuate them. Such things are archaic. Who loses in the end? Your country, which should have been a first world one by today.

I sympathize with those that have benefited from the NEP, but the bad news is that the price he pays for his progress is much higher than what he pays for his benefit.

These special rights and privileges were once a necessity for them to move forward. Today, after many decades, they find themselves still standing in the same place.

It is a shame that our history has been constantly twisted so that our younger generation has no understanding of Malaysia's foundation and its true aspiration.

It is arguable that if not for the contributions of the Chinese and Indian Malaysians who helped in the development of this country tremendously, Malaysia would probably be in same category like Indonesia or the Philippines, if not worst.

To improve the malays lot, more have to be made to work in private companies where competition is real and what count is your ability. If special rights only help malays to become government servants, then all the more reason not to invoke special rights.

But of course, the present ruling elite drunken with wealth, will continue to fight this dream to ensure that Malaysia is kept divided so that BN can continue to rule.

Alternatively, Malaysians may begin to realise the dream of a new Malaysia.

The bitter truth is that the majority of this nation don't see the need to change things yet and until then, we can do little about it.

The bottom line with present day globalisation is this: compete on a level-playing field or you will lose. Plain and simple.

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