Malaysia’s Racial Politics

“Malaysia truly Asia”: The tourist board boasts beautiful islands, lush, green rainforests and a multicultural metropolis in the name of Kuala Lumpur. For the average tourist, that is probably what you will see. They try hard to hide the underbelly lurking the background: racial politics.

Malaysia is and has always been divided. Unlike the lights of the European system of class, Malaysian politics is more dynamic. It is a turbulent whirlpool of race, religion, place of origin and economic background. It is no longer as simple as whether you are Malay, Chinese or Indian. There is now a growing migrant class in Malaysia, attracted by relative political and economical stability. Without migrants, like most developed and emerging economics, the country would be a standstill; but they are treated as an underclass in society.

Petitions have been published and spread around the web calling for the governments of countries where most of these immigrants originate from to disallow them to vote in the general election. One petition states: “We have gathered solid and undisputed evidence that a great number of them are now being used by irresponsible parties to undermine the electoral process in Malaysia, as they have been granted dubious residential status to vote in our forthcoming general election.” It goes on to request that “those who are found to be involved should be duly punished under your national law.”

Such protesters for ‘fair and free’ elections go further to formate a petition written to President Obama, calling it a “democracy crisis in Malaysia”. It is not just through petitions and slandering quotes on the social media that we see such prejudice, it is also prominent at polling stations. A member of the public proudly publishes a video of other voters picketing a bus of voters, of whom they believe to be immigrants, to deter them from voting. But why do people care?

According to the census of 2010, the population of non- Malaysians is only 8.2%. However with the implementation of a new scheme to record and grant amnesty to over 2 million illegal immigrants, the actual number of registered immigrants could amount to roughly 15% of the entire population. This would make them a larger group than ethnic Indians which only accounts for 7.3% of the population. This act of registering illegal immigrants has obviously been seen as a coy to generate soft votes for the ruling party.

However this was one of many blatant exercises to win votes. Subsidies, government backed loans and bumiputra discounts on properties and other material goods are all symbolic of classical boom and bust economics. Yet there was little complaint of this from the opposition, maybe it was because they benefited. But they don’t feel that they benefit from immigrants.

Prejudice towards the immigrant class has been ingrained in Malaysia for years, and it is them who face the brunt of the unjust diversion of frustration with the ruling party. Most of those who have signed petitions and cooperated in ‘flagging up’ these ‘fraudulent’ voters originate from an ethnic minority. It is a gross contradiction to what Malaysian ethnic minorities are attempting to achieve: fair and free elections, and more importantly equal political and economical rights to all Malaysians.

It does not occur to many Malaysians that the majority of immigrants come from marginalised communities. Innocent people from Sri Lanka, Burma and other parts of Asia come to Malaysia to simply seek political asylum, and many of whom do what they can to contribute to the Malaysian economy. These people have chosen Malaysia to reside, they have the legal right to reside and they have the legal right to vote. Free franchise is a basic human right regardless of race, and yes, that also applies to immigrants as well. You never know, they might have voted for the opposition.


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