For Puteri Umno, locality gives edge in battle for young women’s votes

By Syed Jaymal Zahiid

KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 7 — For Umno’s political foes, the ruling party’s Puteri wing has a reputation almost benign.

Literally called “Umno Princesses” in English, the junior wing of Wanita Umno was never deemed to carry any political weight.

In fact, The Puteri wing started out only as an unofficial movement meant to canvass fresh graduates’ support.

Only three years after its initiation that Umno’s top leadership took them seriously, and two of their top women were fielded as candidates in the 2004 General Election.

Despite this, observers still tend to overlook the role Puteri Umno plays in the ruling party’s election machinery.

But the wing, which is holding its 2017 annual general assembly now, may be one of the party’s strongest weapons yet as the number of young voters, especially young women, increase exponentially.

“We don’t usually campaign on national issues,” Intan Hayura Mohamad Yunus, a delegate from Jempol, Negri Sembilan, told the Malay Mail when met at the sidelines of the Umno assembly yesterday.

“We know for a fact that at the grassroots level — and the grassroots is where it matters most — you need to tackle local issues.

“Because we talk to them directly and we know most of the time they only care if local issues that affect them directly, not national issues like graft and so on,” she added.

Umno’s ability to mould its campaign according to issues unique to a constituency is what gives the party advantage over the Opposition, especially for the rural electorate, analysts have pointed out.

Even as support for Opposition grew in the last two elections, Umno’s core vote base — the rural and sub-urban — were barely affected by what had been dubbed as the Opposition “political tsunami” that swept across the country in 2008 and 2013.

Intan said the core philosophy that contributed to Umno’s success in defending these constituencies was still old-fashion brick and mortar campaigning methods — like direct engagement with voters.

While this campaigning style may be considered conservative in today’s digital era — and it may be true to some extent — Intan said the “human touch” gave Umno the needed data to feel the pulse and formulate their campaign accordingly.

“For example in Jempol, we campaigned for a university to be built there, housing or an upgrade of the 1 Malaysia sundry shops.

“We knew exactly what they want because we spoke to them directly through direct programmes like our Puteri Peduli (Puteri Cares), or even by approaching them at the malls,” Intan said.

This does not suggest that national issues like housing, wages and jobs are less important. It is.

Dayang Lansiu, a delegate from Kota Marudu, Sabah, said issues like employment and cost of living matters just as much for young women in her constituency.

“Of course things like jobs and costs of living matters. In my area, there is some discontent about the rising costs of living,” she told Malay Mail.

But continued attacks on the government over flawed policies, a preferred tactic by the Opposition, can only retain attention for some time, and youths eventually become bored and tired.

“They care about all that. But the problem with the Opposition is that they only know how to attack.. we can sense that young voters are now sickened by the rhetoric.

“They want to see genuine solutions,” Intan said.

A survey done by Politweet released recently showed over 60 per cent of youths polled had little interest in Pakatan Harapan parties on social media, a platform perceived to be an Opposition stronghold.

The sentiment was almost similar towards BN, but the ruling coalition enjoyed more appeal based on the number of people that visited their Facebook and Twitter — which numbered just over 20 per cent.

As Umno prepares to go into the 14th general election, the party has upped the ante with sophisticated online campaigns that include chic advertorials and easy-to-understand infographics that boast BN’s achievements.

Intan said Puteri’s cyber and direct campaigns have succeeded in registering at least 50 new young women voters, mostly aged 18 to 35, a day in her constituency alone.

And she is confident that the wing could carry through this performance all the way to the polls.

“We have been working hard tirelessly for years and not only near the elections and we can really see the results...we have new voters registered daily,” she said.

Malay Mail could not independently verify the figures at the time of writing.