Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The New Kid in Malaysia's Blogosphere

One of the most exciting developments in the blogosphere is happening in Malaysia where bloggers are slowly but surely trying to chip away the government's notorious sensitivity to press freedom. And guess who is Malaysia's most popular blogger these days? It is no other than the former prime minister, Dr. Mahathir Mohamad, whose government designed the draconian laws that kept an inquisitive media at bay for the 20 years he was in power. Through his blog, www.chedet.com, Mahathir now "fights the system he perfected," reported the New York Times two weeks ago.

The first entry was made on May 1, 2008, Labor Day, which is traditionally marked by labor protests in various parts of the world. His blog is clearly a form of protest to the government of Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi. The first entry was a criticism of Mr. Abdullah's decision to form a commission to appoint judges. Since then, the 83-year-old leader has commented, in either English or Malay, on various political, social and economic issues of the day, from lobbying practices, the rule of law, and race, to traffic and attending a school reunion. He has criticized U.S. policies and recently wished President-Elect Barack Obama "the best of luck." Occasionally, he attacks his former deputy prime minister and now opposition leader, Anwar Ibrahim, and answers allegations against him and his family. But his harshest criticisms, for now, are reserved for Mr. Abdullah's government.

Indeed, Dr. Mahathir is now enjoying the very freedoms that his leadership sought to suppress. Malaysians, too, welcomed the entry of the iconic leader to the blogosphere. On its first day alone, Chedet received at least 10,000 visitors.

One wonders how the government is taking Dr. Mahathir's renewed popularity. His iconic status may have spared him the typical government reaction against its critics, but others have not been as lucky. One of Malaysia's most popular and outspoken bloggers, Raja Petra Kamaruddin (RPK), who manages Malaysia Today, was detained in September 2008 under Malaysia's Internal Security Act, and was freed only two months later. But RPK's problems are far from over. Yesterday, he was summoned for police questioning over reports that he had insulted Muslims.

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