A lion or cat? In politics, perception can be manufactured.

RECENTLY listened to a radio interview of new Umno Youth chief Datuk Dr Asyraf Wajdi Dusuki.

The interview perplexed and surprised me.

I was under the impression that Asyraf Wajdi was a conservative Muslim who had right-wing tendencies. But his answers showed that he was far from that.

Not only did he strike me as an intelligent man, his stand on issues raised was centric in nature.

Even when probed on controversial issues, such as child marriage and RUU355, his answers were carefully thought out, affirming his moderate stance.

Could he be a casualty of perception?

This raises a question: does perception matter in politics? It does. More so during elections when political parties vie for votes.

However, unlike products and services, where the perception of brands are created and determined by consumers, political perception can be manufactured.

Political perception is a thought-out and coordinated strategy, either to position the party and its politicians in a positive manner or to portray them in a negative light.

Barisan Nasional had blamed perception as one of the reasons for its loss in the 14th General Election.

Whether there is a basis for this claim remains to be seen, as the party hasn’t published any data or communicated how perception contributed to the loss.

When I heard that Asyraf Wajdi had won the Umno Youth election — because of the perception that he was a conservative with right-wing tendencies — I thought that Umno couldn’t undergo transformation.

“How could Umno talk about reforming itself and yet elect a right-wing person to lead one of the most important wings in the party?” I asked myself and my friends.

Not only was this a direct detour from the essence of which the party was founded on, electing a perceived right-winger also doesn’t address the party’s relationship with youth, who tend to prefer moderation and a central stance.

There is no denying the fact that the majority of youth voted against Barisan Nasional, thus helping Pakatan Harapan to its historic victory.

But after listening to Asyraf Wajdi’s interview, I am convinced that Umno is not beyond reform.

However, such reform must not be confined to cosmetic changes or political rhetoric. True reform will be successful only if it is done from the inside out.

Today, I feel the Umno brand is perceived to be extreme because it allowed unqualified people to speak on its behalf.

In a digital world, where social media plays a important role in shaping perceptions, the party is perceived to be as such because it failed to communicate its moderate stance to the people, especially youth.

Worse still, they delegated, officially or otherwise, the communication to people who did not have a clue about how to communicate the party’s stand to the masses.

The people in the communication team antagonised the intended audience, cementing the perception that the party is an extreme party that fought for a selected few.

Yes, perceptions can be manufactured. And manufacturing perceptions is an industry in itself.

Look at the number of consultants parading themselves, promising the sun and the
moon.

But it is important to emphasise that if these consultants don’t tell you that manufactured perceptions are not sustainable in the long run, then be very careful.

For no matter how great the manufacturing of perception is, the truth cannot be concealed forever.

IBRAHIM IVAN OMAR

Brand strategy head, The In/Out Movement (a group of thinkers, creative people and perfectionists)