Tag Archives: politics

The Politics of Social Media in South East Asia

Malaysia currently has about 13.6 million Facebook users – this is 48% of the population. It also has the highest Twitter usage in the world. And with such an audience, it is understandable that social media would become an extremely important part of the political sphere.

Today youth under the age of 30 [pdf] makes up more than 50% of Southeast Asia’s population. This population is mostly middle class, which is a traditional engine of consumption. And in Brunei, Singapore and Malaysia there is an increasing investment in infrastructure and education which creates a high penetration of social media. Even in less affluent countries, like Vietnam, the Philippines and Thailand, low internet penetration rates still mean large numbers of users due to dense urban populations.

There has been a mass scale digitisation of the ASEAN countries and in the next few decades this population will adopt more digital services to meet their needs. Apart from digitisation, the other important trend is urbanisation. This will create more access to social media, technology and the internet.

The biggest manipulator of online communities in most of South East Asia is the government as it has the largest claim to authority and can exercise censorship. There are two forms of government usage of social media: for political popularity, power and control though censorship; and for development and community building, which of course, does not have to be government led. Many people also use the internet for political change.

In the government influence sphere, the Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, or SBY as he is known, joined Twitter last year. Within two weeks, SBY had over 1.7 million followers and a spike in his popularity. His Malaysian counterpart Prime Minister Najib Razak has been tweeting since 2008. Najib had about 1.3 million fans on his Facebook page, while opposition leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim has only 428,371. There is a clear correlation between political popularity and social media usage in South East Asia. Although these political strategies might not work so well in poorer countries where people don’t have access to education and internet.

The spread of the internet access through smartphones is also enabling political parties to connect with individuals and even entire families that may otherwise be hard to reach. As the smartphone gets cheaper and cheaper so there is penetration of the internet in rural areas as well, especially in Cambodia. The government has been able to use this as a propaganda tool in the same way it uses traditional media, and it has accelerated the adoption of Facebook and other social media platforms.

Along with the government, political parties and corporations, the other stakeholders are the people. Sometimes all it takes is one person to shake up the government. In one instance in 2010, Philippine President Benigno Aquino directly answered a Facebook question by a critic. This was unprecedented direct engagement with the masses by a national leader.

During the 2011 floods in Thailand, social media was an important tool and surpassed the mainstream media’s efforts in providing emergency relief.

Facebook helped build a community around the response to the crisis, providing minute-by-minute information and thus mobilising communities. However, the energy that sustains such online communities tends to dissolve after the crisis is over.

Resistance and criticism by the common man is also prone to censorship. In Thailand, Vietnam and Malaysia the government is increasingly emulating China’s example of suppressing online freedom. The Technology Crime Suppression Division of the Thai police intends to monitor the country’s most popular chat site, Line, which has 15 million users in Thailand.

In Vietnam there is the controversial Decree 72 which will enforce bans on posting news articles on blogs or social websites so that the site is used only for “personal” sharing. The government has even made cyber attacks using bots on some bloggers causing them to move their servers outside the country.

Thus as much as the internet can offer participation and engagement, a global public sphere is a utopic dream. The internet operates within socio-political structures that influence how the technology and information can be used and disseminated. Additionally, in Vietnam, government agencies are now developing local language alternatives to Facebook and Google. If these services are formally banned these alternatives can fill the vacuum to the benefit of the government. The public sphere of the internet will be co-opted by the government in the future and we may see a confrontation between international technology companies and Vietnamese authorities.

In Myanmar, social media has been instrumental in political change for the population. In 2007 videos and pictures of anti-government protests were shared on YouTube and Flickr. This was the only way to publicise tyranny and create external international pressure. The country has been infamous for jailing bloggers, journalists and poets. Yet democratic reforms have led to the unblocking of Facebook, which has become a new ground for political protest.

There is a growth of citizen journalism and this has been recognised by mainstream media. In Thailand mainstream media outlets have begun to offer training to citizen journalists. In Malaysia, social media is used to watch trends and mainstream news outlets track sites to pick up news and trends, while international news often uses postings on social media to report stories.

The growing popularity of social media is changing how the public perceives official channels of information. Due to enhanced penetration of the internet there is a greater demand for accountability from traditional power. Yet traditional power can still hold the reigns of this information through censorship and information production.

Today, like any social system, or any community or society, how social media is used depends on social structure and how traditional political power can balance itself against new types of social power derived from information technology. Only time will tell precisely how this will evolve.

July, 1, 2014- International Data Group.

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World Values: What makes nations happy?

The unprecedented wealth that has accumulated in advanced societies during the past generation means that an increasing share of the population has grown up taking survival for granted. This means that priorities have shifted from economic and physical security to more subjective concerns of well being like self-expression. Thus modernisation and economic progress is not a linear process, once a society moves towards high levels of economic growth, there are only incremental changes in quality of life. However, attitudes towards wellbeing continue to evolve.

wellbeing

Figure 1: Survival and Well Being as related to per capita GNP.

The World Values Survey (WVS) is one such piece of research that tries to find evidence that orientations have shifted. Since the 1990s, results from the World Values Survey have been noticing a shift from Traditional toward Secular-rational values in almost all industrial societies. The Survey is a global research project that explores people’s values and beliefs, how they change over time and what social and political impact they have, carried out by a worldwide network of social scientists since 1981. The WVS is the only source of empirical data on attitudes covering a majority of the world’s population (nearly 90%). Data from the World Values Survey have for example been used to better understand the motivations behind events such as the 2010-2011 Middle East and North Africa proteststhe Rwandan genocide in 1994 and the Yugoslav wars and political upheaval in the 1990s. The survey is conducted every few years and is in the final phases of its 2012 research.

Two dimensions dominate the picture in the WVS analysis: (1) Traditional/ Secular-rational and (2) Survival/Self-expression values. These two dimensions explain more than 70 percent of the cross-national variance in a factor analysis of ten indicators-and each of these dimensions is strongly correlated with scores of other important orientations.

According to the WVS website, the Traditional/Secular-rational values dimension reflects the contrast between societies in which religion is very important and those in which it is not with a wide range of other related orientations. Societies near the traditional pole emphasize the importance of parent-child ties and deference to authority, along with absolute standards and traditional family values, and reject divorce, abortion, euthanasia, and suicide. These societies have high levels of national pride, and a nationalistic outlook. Societies with secular-rational values have the opposite preferences on all of these topics. The second major dimension of cross-cultural variation is linked with the transition from industrial society to post-industrial societies-which brings a polarization between Survival and Self-expression values.

Each country is positioned according to its people’s values and not its geographical location. To a large extent the two coincide, but the map measures cultural proximity, not geographical proximity. Thus, Australia, Canada, the U.S. and Great Britain are cultural neighbors, reflecting their relatively similar values, despite their geographical dispersion. Figure 2 and 3 provide a comparison of world values between 2004 and 2008. The nature of the values on either axis is explained by Figure 4.

Inglehart_Values_Map2.svg

Figure 2: The World Value Survey Cultural Map 2010

Source: Ronald Inglehart and Christian Welzel, “Changing Mass Priorities: The Link Between Modernization and Democracy.” Perspectives on Politics June 2010 (vol 8, No. 2)

Cultures and Values old

Figure 3: The World Value Survey Cultural Map 1999-2004

Source: Ronald Inglehart and Christian Welzel, Modernization, Cultural Change and Democracy New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005: page 63.
Scatter chart

Figure 4: Scatter chart of Authority and Survival or Well Being
Source: R. Inglehart, Modernization and Postmodernization (Princeton, 1997).

The shift from survival values to self-expression values includes shifts in child-rearing values, shifts from hard work toward emphasis on imagination and tolerance as important values to teach a child. This is supplanted with a rising sense of subjective well-being that is conducive to an atmosphere of tolerance, trust and political moderation. Finally, societies that rank high on self-expression values also tend to rank high on interpersonal trust.

Happiness: Religion and national pride

The WVS has often been used to measure happiness in states. Data from representative national surveys carried out from 1981 to 2007 shows the extent to which a society allows free choice has a major impact on happiness.

The WVS finds that that national pride had a strong zero-order correlation with attitudes towards well being but it was closely linked with strong emphasis on religion.  When included with religiosity in the regression, national pride did not have an independent impact. Both religion and national pride were stronger in less-developed societies than in developed ones, which helps explain why some low-income societies had relatively high levels of “happiness”. For example, the contrast between the Latin American societies and the ex- communist societies shown in Figure 5 may be due in part to the fact that virtually all of the Latin American societies surveyed at that time were strongly religious and had strong national pride, whereas the ex-communist nations were not religious and did not have national pride: 76% of those surveyed in Latin American countries stated that ‘‘God is very important in my life’’ (placing themselves the top of a 10-point scale), whereas only 27% of those surveyed in the ex-communist countries and 42% of those surveyed in the remaining countries did so. In addition, 77% of those surveyed in Latin American countries said they are ‘‘very proud’’ of their nationality, as compared with 39% of those surveyed in the ex-communist societies and 57% of those surveyed in the remaining countries.

Figure 5: Happiness and GNP

So while we started off by saying that more democratic and prosperous countries have values that encourage self-expression, and people in those countries are not worried about survival, happiness is something that exists even is non-industrialized and conservative states. These countries score high on traditional values as well as having good scores with regards to self expression (Figure 2). Thus it is choice and self expression that makes for happiness, regardless of traditional values. Secular-rational nations are only happy, when they are not worried with survival. Thus countries like Denmark are Sweden are “happy” and post-communist countries are “unhappy”.

WVS Methodology: The World Values Survey uses the sample surveys as its mode of data collection, a systematic and standardized approach to collect information through interviewing representative national samples of individuals. Samples are drawn from the entire population of 18 years and older. The minimum sample is 1000. In most countries, no upper age limit is imposed and some form of stratified random sampling is used to obtain representative national samples. The survey is carried out by professional organizations using face-to-face interviews or phone interviews for remote areas. Each country has a Principal Investigator responsible for conducting the survey in accordance with the fixed rules and procedures.

Pakistan Policy Group, 2012.

Poli-tickle theory

If I had a nickel for every time I told someone that I have a degree in political economy and was met by the response, “Oh, maybe you can fix Pakistan’s politics and economy!”… I probably could fix everything. Truth be told, Pakistan’s politics and economy baffle me. The tangled web of bureaucracy, MPA’s, local politics, corruption, Shahbaz Sharif’s edicts, the suo moto’s sitting in the courts, the pear-shaped police, Altaf Hussain’s rambles… my reaction is to place my fingers on my forehead and stare at my palms. And then Shoaib Akhtar and Shahid Afridi keep scratching and chewing cricket balls.

Though I might be dazed by Pakistan’s politics, the good thing is that everyone else is not. Everybody has a theory, and is kind enough to share it, and keeps sharing it.

It is good that I get to hear so much theoretical analysis of Pakistani politics. As luck would have it, I teach politics to wildly clueless third year students, who most of the time cannot tell their political left from right. They regularly ask me to revise my Weber and Waltz… they’ve absolutely got it wrong, all wrong. And truth be told, which of our current news pundits and analysts have ever tried to apply political theory to the events of Pakistan? Their own theories are enough, who cares about Chomsky and Foucault. Foo-who? Never mind.

So there I was, in the faculty lounge, trying to make out the handwriting of one of my students, when I was interrupted by the new Chief-Administrative-Manager-Head (or some combination of these words).

“Who are you?” he inquired very politely, to which I replied I was a teacher. Hoping he would leave it at that and just assume I taught advanced econometric analysis, I went back to my big red crosses (with a side of student gibberish).

“What do you teach?” he inquired extremely politely, to which I sighed… “Politics.”

Achaaaannnn … then you can tell me what the problem is with Pakistan, ehhh?” I had shot myself in the foot again.

“I am really very busy sir, gotta check these quizzes, clock is ticking,” I responded curtly.

Achaaaannnnn … then we should talk about politics when you are free sometime. But if you have a minute, let me tell you what I think we should do.”

I put my pen down, and stared at him blankly. Nothing would stop him from blurting out THE THEORY. Might as well try to get this over with.

“So once a long time ago I was on a train to Karachi from Lahore. And we were talking about politics the way friends do. And believe you me, Believe. You. Me. We came up with the perfect solution.”

And then the build-up began.

“First, you have elections. Then you form a parliament from those who win. And then… you shoot everybody!”

The punch line was like a wet fish thrown in my face. He smiled, very pleased. I thought it was over, but it wasn’t…

“You see, some corrupt politicos who lost the last election will be left. Also the chamchas andchailas and brethren of those we shot will also be enraged and motivated to do something. Democracy after all is the best revenge. So then you have another election and form a parliament with them. And then…” oh dear, it was coming again, “You shoot everybody!”

Not over yet.

“Then… have another election! But let those people live; the first two shootings will have rid the system of corruption.”

He had just trampled all over that thin line between dull humour and insanity tossed with absolute seriousness. I nodded my head, “Excellent, ha ha, excellent… let’s continue this later,” and hid behind my quiz.

There are so many ideas like this floating around. From meta-theories that say that the US is the Dajjal , to the highly common, insensitive and mindless, “You know what God is punishing people in our north for, don’t you?!”

Another howler has been making the rounds very successfully, brought to my attention through a colleague at an Ivy League institution (and here I thought the best education in the world can cure silliness). Gather round and listen closely friends, the US has a secret weapon called HAARP. It has been using this to cause natural disasters. In fact Hugo Chavez has been quoted saying that the US testing of this ‘tectonic weapon’ led to the Haiti earthquake. The US also caused our 2005 earthquake, and now the floods. Time is nigh. A tsunami is coming. Believe you me.

HAARP, theHigh Frequency Active Auroral Research Programme is apparently an ionosphericresearch programme jointly funded by the US military and the University of Alaska. The purpose, allegedly, is to develop better technology for radio communications and surveillance purposes (such as missile detection) based on the testing of the ionosphere 85km above the earth’s surface as it influences radio waves and transmissions. But I’m no physicist.

You’ve heard them all before. 9/11 was a Zionist conspiracy. Faisal Shahzad’s botched plan was a Zionist conspiracy. The US is a Zionist conspiracy. And Altaf Bhai is an alien.

And rest assured, the Indian Cricket Board was behind the spot-fixing scandal. It was all RAW. We were framed. Believe you me.

Saadia Gardezi is not part of any ideological mafia, and is open to your theories. Do write and send your views to TFT.

The Friday Times, October 15-21, 2010, Vol. XXII, No. 35

Interview with Asma Jahangir

Asma Jahangir marching against the first invasion of Iraq, 1991
Asma at a Women Action Forum protest, 1983

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So I met up with the famous human rights activist and asked her a few questions at her campaign office. She took me campaigning with her to various offices on Fane Road including climbing up four stories of broken stairs and avoiding the pot holes on Fane Road. Here are a few questions I asked her about her election campaign for the office of the President, Supreme Court Bar Association. This is an election where political leanings and group politics cannot be ignored. Asma Jahangir’s campaign has been called partisan and she has also been described by certain sections of lawyers and media as ‘pro-Zardari’. On the other hand, her opponent has been called pro-judiciary and anti-democracy (In The Friday Times, 15th October, 2010).

Why is contesting this election important? What is your motivation?
This is important because the bar has to be independent. The pressure that the lawyers are subservient to judges is a veiled threat to the lawyers and has affected the integrity and honesty of the legal system. My aim is to work towards ensuring the dignity of the bar and its independence.

Where does the support of the leaders of the 2007 Lawyers Movement lie?
I have their support, except for Hamid Khan.

What about Aitzaz Ahsan?
He has remained neutral, but he will probably vote for me.

Will the support from lawyers belonging to the PPP be a large part of your success?
Though I have the support of many of these lawyers, it cannot alone help me win the election. The votes from PPP supporting lawyers will probably be near 100 to 200 out of 2200 votes. The issue of the PPP supporting me has been given too much attention, in fact not all pro-PPP lawyers will be voting for me. I am supported also by lawyers who belong to the Awami National Party, Jamaat-e-Islami, PML-N and other parties who have said they will vote for me. I do not have a specific group that is behind me but individuals who support my stance. Continue reading Interview with Asma Jahangir

The Political Spectrum

Theories of international relations, simplified for my students.

for dummies

Love Venn diagrams

(Don’t steal my drawings plz)

Neutral, impartial and independent?

June 18th, The Friday Times

The three principles of international humanitarian action have long been held to be neutrality, impartiality and independence and Transparency International comes under the purview of these principles of humanitarian action.

There have been major criticisms levelled at the 2010 National Corruption Survey by Transparency International Pakistan (TIP) in the media, for example that the report has an unfair bias and targets the PPP government unfairly.

Imran Khan for one in The News (June 9), questions the sampling of TIP saying, “The 2009 survey differs from the other two when it comes to the provincial sample size. In 2002 and 2005, the sample size for each province was somewhat reflective of its overall population proportion in Pakistan. But in 2009, each province had the same sample size, 1,300.”

Continue reading Neutral, impartial and independent?