Malaysia’s Political Crisis: What the People Are Saying

Malaysia’s Political Crisis: What the People Are Saying

Ahmad Munawar
25 March 2020

Now that the proverbial dust has settled, Malaysia has found itself with a new prime minister and cabinet albeit a rather familiar one. Dismay and confusion gripped the nation as the political upheaval went through various forms of realpolitik. One of the forms is how the media, both social and mainstream, held a myriad of opinions which in turn amplified overarching narratives. Through this perspective, Meltwater peers through the political machinery within social media and listens to what the citizenry said.

Social media predictions prior to resignation

Malaysia political crisis: Mahathir social mentions before resignationUndoubtedly, like any other political bestseller found on the shelves of your nearest bookstore, the incumbent Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamed resigned. To unseat oneself from constitutional power displayed confidence by the seasoned politician and was widely seen as a political checkmate move against his detractors and opposition. In the days before the announcement (1 – 23 February), there were 118,000 mentions of Tun Mahathir resigning. This can be attributed to the reverberations being felt at the political grassroots level and Malaysians were discussing the possibility of the prime minister giving up his post. On 24 February, there were 109,000 mentions of Tun’s resignation. Social media erupted with discussions on what will happen to the government and many were left looking for answers on the forums and chat groups.

The Sheraton Move

While the nation was still absorbing the news, the King re-appoints Tun M as interim prime minister and dissolves the cabinet. Ultimately these series of events have left the minds of the people in a tumultuous state. And many pointed fingers to the almost anarchic events within Pakatan Harapan – or what many would see as a juncture in Malaysia’s political history, coined the Sheraton Move. In the month of February, there were around 43,500 mentions of the Sheraton Move and many netizens, on both sides of the bipartisan fence saw it being the catalyst for Tun M to hand in his resignation. The proceedings during the Sheraton Move – strongly debated on Reddit threads and forum discussions – revolved and weaved through issues within the leaders of the coalition government.

Amongst them were Anwar Ibrahim’s successorship from Tun M, rising tensions between the political factions and a proposal to merge with the previous UMNO leadership. All these factors nudged Tun M towards an end goal that he believed was the best for the people and this vindication influenced his move to resign. The Sheraton Move was overwhelmingly seen as a contentious incident because there were more than 10 percent of negative sentiment, mainly aiming at the individuals destabilising the coalition. Positive sentiment towards the Sheraton Move was only a measly one percent. The rest were neutral in sentiment as people shared the news across social media. Many felt that the aggressors during the Sheraton Move caused Tun M to resign because the leader did not want to compromise his principles.

The King Beckons a New Leader

Malaysia political crisis: social mentions of potential leaders

After the resignation and dissolution of the Cabinet, it was anyone’s guess who would become the new prime minister. With different factions claiming political territory, the threat of a hung parliament accelerated the next phase. With the King holding an audience with the various party officials and parliamentarians, Malaysians made their assumptions on social media. In the six days after Tun M’s resignation, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim (DSAI) was mentioned almost 305,000 times. With Tun M himself mentioned 620,000 in the same period, DSAI was poised to be heir to the throne in the eyes of Pakatan Harapan. However, many also viewed him as the agent provocateur that led Tun M to cede power instead of handing it over. 

The two protagonists dominated the conversations in social media as the nation witnessed a rollercoaster of political support between the veteran statesmen. And this was where Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin became the talk of the social media town – the King surprised everyone when he ended the political chaos by announcing Tan Sri Muhyiddin as Malaysia’s eighth prime minister. Tan Sri Muhyiddin was mentioned almost 142,00 times during this period. However, 74% of the mentions were on 29 February, the day of the announcement. Empirically, no one predicted that this would happen. The political sleight-of-hand threw out all permutations that analysts and observers had concocted and turned over two of Malaysia’s most seasoned political tacticians.

Moving forward

In this instance, listening to social media conversations may not be suitable for predictive analysis due to information that was privy only to the decision-makers in the political spheres. These trends can be used to research and explain the correlative and causative consequences that caused the considerably unforeseen anomalous result. Observers and analysts can gauge on-the-ground sentiment and carve out strategic narratives in play during major events such as this. Social listening provides an alternative view for observers and analysts to gain a broader understanding of audiences through social data investigation.

For all intents and purposes, Tun M would rue this as a strategic miscalculation – a political gamble which did not pay off well for him. The best political tacticians would have made the same move when put in similar circumstances. Despite the widespread outcry of a ‘backdoor government’ or the end of democratic ownership, all the political manoeuvring were plotted within constitutional confines. New fellowships have been created while the cobwebs of old ones have been stripped away. Until the next general election, the people of the nation will now have to gather their spirits and move forward for the better. 

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