Xenophobia against foreign workers is reminiscent of a typical BN tactic of using racial issues to distract attention from more vital issues at hand, says Angeline Loh.
Viewing various Youtube clips on how the general public played a role in ferreting out phantom voters and exposing them, I found regrettable that in trying to counter election fraud, some citizens went overboard in expressing their indignation.
There was footage of migrant workers being pulled off a bus and roughly man-handled by more than one person. There were noisy scenes of Malaysian voters shouting, ‘baiting’ and hurling racial and personal insults against these alleged “BN phantom voters”.
Mob interrogation took place at some polling stations and at least one apparently legitimate Malaysian voter was attacked and barred by other voters simply for ‘looking’ like a foreign national.
One foreigner was surrounded and interrogated by a crowd, some of whom made insulting and threatening gestures whilst hurling verbal threats and insults at him.
A rather disturbing video showed a group of foreign workers made to sit in a line against a wall at a polling centre. One man had no shirt and there was a lot of noise – people shouting and sounds of a fight or someone being hit repeatedly with a crash helmet. The clip also panned in on apparent blood stains on the wall against which the line of migrant workers were squatting.
The apprehension and anxiety in which these foreign workers were put may have felt justified to the growling electoral mob, but was this necessary?
The anger at the alleged use of foreigners as “phantom voters” by the BN to ensure their victory in this crucial general election, on which high hopes for change were pinned, served to heighten excitement in an already highly feverish election atmosphere.
These foreigners had been dropped into this boiling cauldron without any guarantees of safety or protection from physical attack. They were possibly allegedly merely instructed to go and vote with the identification cards given to them. Some may have been instructed to vote in more than one polling station. They were exposed to the consequences. Although, it is only speculated, many may have consented to participate in this scheme for financial gain or better immigration status. The immigration status of foreign workers in Malaysia is still very precarious.
However, in such a situation, the politicians who leased these ‘voters for hire’ must have been aware of the potential backlash from Malaysian voters. The BN also didn’t seem to trouble themselves about the confusion caused to local, genuine Malaysian voters.
Still, it isn’t surprising that Umno-BN shows no concern for any of this racial trouble or the raising of xenophobia against foreign workers or even Malaysian citizens. It has always been an Umno-BN tactic to use racial issues to distract attention from their true objectives.
Foreign workers have for several years been the underdogs of Malaysian society, kept from exercising basic human rights, denied their fundamental labour rights, and used as the BN administrations political ‘football’. It is regrettable that citizens have at times fallen into the xenophobia trap set by UmnoO-BN, but in the election environment, this was understandable but avoidable.
However, there were a number of Malaysian voters, who in the circumstances admirably rejected the xenophobia bait and took steps to prevent violence at the polling centres. In the last video I mentioned, there were voices in the background telling the foreigners squatting along the wall, not to be afraid, “Jangan takut, jangan takut” (Don’t be afraid). Some even formed a human barrier to shield these foreigners from being attacked by some of those outraged and uncontrolled elements. Still, some people sustained injury, even if no one was reported seriously hurt.
The alleged use of foreign workers as “phantom voters” was a trap, which Umno-BN possibly hoped would disrupt the elections, as the likes of Ibrahim Ali and Zulkifli Noordin prove. Such persons voicing racists and seditious sentiments remain freely at large. However, the majority of the Rakyat did not take the bait, and their sympathy for these ‘victimised’ foreigners was truly touching and praiseworthy.
The passive resistance by the Rakyat, supported by the Pakatan Rakyat, against apparent racism, is heartening, to say the least. Hopefully, in continuing solidarity against Umno-BN’s communal politics and racial antagonism, we will discover our unity one day.
All in all, despite the irregularities and alleged fraud riddling GE13, the election was carried out peacefully, with minimal disturbance. Thanks to the Rakyat’s persistence and great effort in monitoring the process, officially and unofficially, coupled with massive public cooperation and solidarity devoid of communal or religious considerations.
The pro-active attitude and common sense shown by members of the public to maintain calm and order in all circumstances is something Malaysians should hold dear in memory and continue to forge for generations to come. There is hope that this country can create and maintain a culture of non-discrimination, and count itself amongst the most cleanly democratic nations in the world.