Online petitions don’t always show results

PETALING JAYA: A recently launched online petition to appeal to the Yang di-Pertuan Agong to call an end to the Emergency, which was imposed on Jan 11, has garnered more than 40,000 signatures.

While this is a commendable showing, it is an exception rather than the rule for such petitions today.

While one that appealed to the King to endorse the Pakatan Harapan (PH) government after it won the election in 2018 (GE14) garnered 333,717 signatures, making it the most successful local petition, most garner fewer than 100 supporters, and quickly fizzle out.

However, such petitions should not be wantonly dismissed either, according to political scientist Dr Wong Chin Huat.

“The mushrooming of online petitions is a good thing as it exemplifies the desire of people to take ownership,” he told theSun.

“Citizen’s political efficacy had soared after GE14 and online petitions became a low-cost and easy-to-organise way to advocate a cause,” he pointed out.

In fact, online petitions became more prominent after the historic GE14, when people began to respond critically to attention-grabbing news headlines through online petitions and campaigns.

In PH’s first 38 days in government, more than 70 online petitions were launched.

These included those calling for Malaysians to help settle the RM1 trillion national debt, one objecting Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s call to start another national car project and for MPs Tony Pua and Nurul Izzah Anwar to be appointed as ministers.

However, Wong said, the impact of online petitions has faded over time thanks to the political stalemate, which has greatly eroded citizens’ enthusiasm as well as the fact that “the current government does not seem to care as much for public opinion”.

In fact, few online petitions have met the objectives of the organisers. Those that actually made a real change were the ones that saw Mahathir agreeing to relinquish the education portfolio as well as the Finance Ministry’s launching of the Tabung Harapan Malaysia.

International Islamic University Malaysia assistant professor Dr Shafizan Mohamed told theSun that online petitions were more successful some years ago because it was considered innovative and rare back then.

“The value of online petitions has decreased because people have become desensitised with so many petitions going around,” Shafizan said.

She also pointed out that people are now creating online petitions for all sorts of things, thus greatly affecting the weight that these campaigns carry.

“People are also getting very tired of politics as they don’t see its relevance and they do not think that it affects their everyday life.”

Furthermore, Shafizan said, one cannot depend solely on online petitions to inspire real change.

There must be some form of a bigger mobilisation that includes offline campaigns and support by key opinion leaders as well to ensure that such movements are effective, she said.

Multimedia University Faculty of Applied Communication lecturer Adlene Aris said netizens are often supportive when it comes to campaigns to fight oppression.

“Since the proper channels are often not effective enough, people turn to the internet. The web also enables anonymity, leading participants to feel safe,” she pointed out.

However, she said the effectiveness of an online petition often depends on the severity of the issue, the issue itself, and who they are campaigning against. Even that is not always a certainty. Some that involve serious issues and deal with people in powerful positions have also fallen flat.

Adlene said petitions and campaigns that canvass for money may also turn out to be a fraudulent activity. “There are instances when money collected has not been used for the stated cause,” she said.

She urged individuals to be vigilant and to make wise decisions before donating to such campaigns.

“For example, individuals should use reputable platforms such as Participants should be wary about new campaigns that are not clear about where the funds will be channelled to,” she added.


Related JCI Publications