Nov 22, 2011 : WITH nearly 70% of the 4.5 million unregistered voters being in the 21 to 40 age group, Barisan Nasional has sounded the battle cry for its bloggers and social media practitioners to reach out to them with their iPads, iPhones, BlackBerries and laptops.
Besides, about 500,000 youths join the ranks of unregistered voters each year and getting them hooked early to either Barisan or Pakatan Rakyat is half the battle won for the parties as the youngsters will be voters as well as campaign workers.
The youths are the mainstay in any mass political campaign, either as voters, party workers, supporters and even fodder for demonstrations, as seen in the July street demonstration by the Bersih 2.0 coalition.
Barisan is taking a leaf from the Pakatan playbook to reach out to the youth in more ways than one.
Even its election cry has been carefully rewritten as BN Pilihan Orang Muda (BN the Young People's Choice), from the previous straight forward Vote for BN.
Prime Minister and Barisan chief Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak launched the campaign to get the young voters by urging pro-Barisan bloggers and social media practitioners to bring out their iPads, iPhone, BlackBerries, tablets and laptops.
“These are your weapons as cyber warriors,” Najib told about 2,000 bloggers and social media practitioners gathered at the PWTC on Sunday at the first-ever social media convention.
Also called the 1Malaysia Social Media Volunteers or myVO1CE they will explain and defend government policies online.
Pakatan has had a head start, being first to embrace social media and harnessing it for political purposes.
The impact was seen in the outcome of the March 2008 polls, when voters gave the alliance 82 urban and semi-urban parliamentary constituencies and four states, in addition to Kelantan.
The battle to win hearts and minds of voters ahead of the 13th general election will be fought with everything the two rival coalitions can throw at each other.
While Barisan sees its cyber war as setting the record straight, Pakatan sees it as a life-and-death matter to change the voting pattern.
Najib said Barisan cannot be content with just the rural support and must also rally the urban votes. But it is easier said than done.
Urban voters have a multitude of avenues for information, from the print media to the Internet and their own participation in social media like blogs and Twitter.
Pakatan simply questions each government information, from the 1Malaysia milk programme for schools to giving RM500 to households earning less than RM3,000 a month.
It casts doubts on the programmes and questions the effectiveness.
Najib said the Barisan-friendly social media practitioners are the coalition's advocates to explain government policies and to correct the falsehood on the Internet.
Whoever wins the hearts and minds of those in the 21 to 35 age group will win big.
And that's why the cyber troopers from both sides of the divide are an important tool of the battle.
While Umno is confident of winning the majority of the Malay voters in that age group, the DAP is sure of the urban Chinese support in the same age group.
That leaves the PKR and PAS to struggle and gain the support of the rural Malays voters and the MCA and Gerakan for the urban Chinese voters.
Cyber troopers from both sides play a crucial role in convincing the 3.2 million new voters to side with them.
Combined with the 4.5 million unregistered voters who did not vote in 2008, the next election could be a close call.