MALAYSIA is among a small list of countries which reportedly had its polls influenced by Cambridge Analytica, the UK political consultancy that played a key role in US President Donald Trump’s election victory and which is now at the centre of Facebook’s manipulation scandal.
British broadcaster Channel 4 News recently revealed the company’s clandestine business practices and whose top officials admitted to running a series of election campaigns, including those of President Uhuru Kenyatta in the 2013 and 2017 Kenyan elections.
In a secretly recorded video, Cambridge Analytica chief data officer said the company had helped elections in the US and Africa by gathering profiles of people to give them targeted messaging.
Cambridge Analytica Global Political managing director Mark Turnbull added: “We’ve done it in Mexico, we’ve done it in Malaysia, and now we’re moving into Brazil.”
The video of the duo was a collection of meetings in London between Nov 2017 and Jan 2018 which saw a Channel 4 fixer posing as a potential client from Sri Lanka who wanted to seek the company’s services for politicians in the South Asian country.
The news channel said it mounted a “sting operation” in which it said had secretly recorded the top Cambridge Analytica executives saying they could use bribes, former spies and Ukrainian sex workers to entrap politicians around the world.
The New York Times and the British Observer newspaper reported on Saturday that Cambridge Analytica had acquired private data harvested from more than 50 million Facebook users to support Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential election campaign.
Turnbull, who is also a managing director for Cambridge Analytica’s sister company SCL Elections, told Channel 4’s undercover investigative reporting team that his firm secretly stage-managed Kenyatta’s hotly contested campaigns to run the East African nation.
“We have rebranded the entire party twice, written the manifesto, done research, analysis, messaging. I think we wrote all the speeches and we staged the whole thing – so just about every element of this candidate,” Turnbull said of his firm’s work for Kenyatta’s political party, known as the National Alliance until 2016, and subsequently as the Jubilee Party.
Kenyatta came to power in 2013 and won a second and final term last August, defeating opposition leader Raila Odinga by 1.4 million votes. The Supreme Court nullified the vote citing procedural irregularities and ordered a second election.
Last September, former US presidential candidate Hillary Clinton called the second election a “project” of Cambridge Analytica. The Jubilee Party has not commented.
Odinga did not contest the repeat vote on Oct. 26, saying it would be unfair because the election commission had failed to implement reforms and Kenyatta won with 98 percent of the vote.
At a prior meeting, Turnbull told the reporters: “Our job is to really drop the bucket further down the well than anybody else to understand what are these really deep-seated fears, concerns. “It is no good fighting an election campaign on the facts, because actually, it is all about emotion.”
Despite the admission by the two Cambridge Analytica executives, the level of involvement in Malaysian elections is currently unclear.
However, members of Malaysia’s opposition has questioned the role of CA political, a company related to Cambridge Analytica, in the 2013 polls.
“Prime Minister Najib Razak must explain if he used Cambridge Analytica to manipulate voters in GE13 and whether he is using unethical manipulation techniques in the upcoming GE14,” Wan Saiful Wan Jan, the deputy chairman of strategy and policy for the Parti Pribumi Bersatu (Bersatu), said in a statement, as quoted by Channel News Asia.
“Cambridge Analytica claims on their website that they helped Najib win GE13.
“The website of CA Political, a company related to Cambridge Analytica, says they ‘supported Barisan Nasional in Kedah state with a targeted messaging campaign highlighting their school improvements since 2008’.”
Cambridge Analytica "supported Barisan Nasional with a targeted messaging campaign" in the 2013 general elections. pic.twitter.com/EdeYDCxkQO
— Sumisha Naidu (@SumishaCNA) March 20, 2018
Fahmi Fadzil, the communications director of the People’s Justice Party, pointed out that the SCL Malaysia office address provided on the company’s website was a privately owned home. Its occupants did not know it was used as an office for the two companies.
“Given the alleged abuse of personal data of Facebook users and Cambridge Analytica’s involvement in political activities with possible criminal elements, I call on the Royal Malaysian Police and the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission to immediately investigate these entities,” Fahmi said in a statement.
“If there is any contract between (Malaysia’s ruling party and coalition) UMNO-BN with these companies, for the sake of democracy and the good of the people, I urge (PM) Najib to disclose it.”
Additional reporting by Reuters