Speaking to the media here Tuesday, blogger Jeff Ooi launched a new Web site called Jeff 4 Malaysia, and officially submitted his application to join Malaysia's opposition party, the Democratic Action Party (DAP).
Malaysian blogger turned politician
Ooi, 51, has been actively blogging about socio-economic-political issues since he began his blog in 2003. Adhering to the maxim "thinking aloud, thinking allowed", the e-business consultant said he believes blogging is an important tool in politics today.
"I have experimented over the years with online media by starting the Subang Jaya online community Web portal in 2001, and later, with blogging in 2003. What I've discovered is that it does give me a new communications channel," he explained.
"When I first started blogging, [my blog] was just like a tiny drop in the ocean," he said. "But over time, I've gained the trust of the audience I wanted to reach out to and I think this has certainly created an impact."
Ooi said he started Jeff 4 Malaysia because he believes it can be used as a platform to foster collective intelligence, which he said is "recognized as the bedrock for a knowledge-based economy".
Asked if he thought blogs were effective in reaching out to the grassroots, Ooi said recent criticisms of the blogging community by incumbent politicians who do not understand the nature of the new media, made blogs and online publications to look more like mainstream media.
"I think that blogs have built quite a lot of power over the years. I'm very positive about how they are going to play a role [in politics] in the years to come," he said. Ooi is also a blogger for ZDNet Asia's sister site CNET Asia.
Just last week, the Information Chief of the country's largest political party United Malays National Organization (UMNO), lodged a police report against political blogger Raja Petra Kamarudin. The complaint stated that a Jul. 11 post on Raja's blog Malaysia Today carried several comments which allegedly insulted the country's monarchy and Islam, and also incited hatred between races.
A local media report quoted Deputy Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak as saying the government has not made any decision to clamp down on bloggers, but warned citizens to be aware that there are laws in the country that need to be observed.
Still some way to go
Meanwhile, Ooi conceded that while blogs can play an important role in politics, opposition politicians will still have to resort to the traditional method of communication when campaigning in Malaysia's general elections in 2009.
"I think when it comes to the elections, we will still have to resort to traditional methods [such as] meeting people on the street, face-to-face communication, printing traditional flyers, to get our message through," he said.
"But the Internet can be used to mitigate issues that may occur at the last minute, and I'm counting on volunteers in blogsphere to spread the word if need be," Ooi added.
Tony Pua, economic advisor to the DAP and a blogger himself, said blogging can be effective to communicate alternative views which the mainstream press may choose not report.
"Urban citizens who have access to broadband and the Internet can be reached through new media tools, such as blogs and podcasting," Pua told ZDNet Asia, on the sidelines of the media briefing.
But he admitted that due to Malaysia's low broadband penetration rates--about 3 percent--not everyone is connected.
Pua noted: "While the country cannot be totally reached through the new media, it can energize those who have access to it so they in turn can reach others who do not.
"They can be a catalyst in spreading the word to those who cannot receive information," he said.
Edwin Yapp is a freelance IT writer based in Malaysia.