Korean pop sensation Psy danced right into the middle of Malaysia's increasingly fractious politics Monday, following the prime minister on to the stage at a government-held Chinese New Year celebration in opposition stronghold Penang.
Psy's two renditions of his hit "Gangnam Style" were the highlight of a scorching morning in the west coast city, where Malaysia's governing coalition, known as the National Front, made a local and youth vote pitch ahead of elections expected to be the closest-fought in Malaysia's history.
"If you read most of the surveys, they show almost a neck and neck race, but most analysts think that the BN will win narrowly," says James Chin, a professor of political science at Monash University.
The National Front, known by its Malay acronym BN, has run Malaysia since independence in 1957. But the stakes are high with 30 percent of Malaysia's 13 million voters due to cast their ballots for the first time in this election, slated to be announced by the end of April.
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The opposition, another coalition led by former Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim, is hoping to better its best-ever showing in the 2008 election, when it took 1/3 of the seats. Tensions have been heightened by two mass opposition-linked rallies in capital Kuala Lumpur, when tens of thousands of demonstrators were doused with water-cannons and tear-gas in July 2011 and April 2012.
But Psy's appearance at today's event seems unlikely to sway these younger voters one way or another. "It will be seen as publicity stunt," says Professor Chin.
Indeed, Malaysia's Prime Minister Najib Razak pledged 20,000 new houses and a new monorail system for Penang just before Psy came out on stage. He ended his address by asking "Are you ready for Psy?" And was met with a sea of enthusiastic cheers. When he then asked "Are you ready for BN?" it was met by a less enthusiastic response from the crowd.
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"Everyone was here for Psy, not for politics," says Chang Myn-Kit, who works in Singapore, but made his way back to Penang to be with family for the Chinese New Year.