Migrant workers warned to stay away from Malaysia election

NGO accuses government of handing out ID cards for votes and threatens foreigners with 'the anger of the people of Malaysia'

PUBLISHED : Friday, 03 May, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 03 May, 2013, 1:17am

Leaflets ordering migrant workers to stay away from polling stations when Malaysia holds its general election on Sunday have been distributed in an area of the capital where they hang out.

"Many of you have been given Malaysian citizenship and/or Malaysian identity card by the corrupt Umno/BN government on the condition that you must vote for Umno/BN in the coming election," the leaflet says in Indonesian, Burmese, Urdu and Bengali. "This is a warning to all of you that if you come to the polling station on the 13th General Election, be prepared to witness the anger of the people of Malaysia."

The warning comes from an NGO calling itself Anything But Umno, led by Haris Ibrahim, a former lawyer. The United Malay National Organisation is the largest political party in the ruling coalition, which is facing its most hotly contested election to date. ABU accuses the Barisan Nasional, or National Front, of trying to "cheat" by giving migrant workers identity cards in exchange for voting for the government.

Electoral fraud is a sensitive issue in Malaysia, where a movement has sprung up to demand electoral reforms in increasingly large protests. A narrow victory by the ruling coalition could trigger allegations of cheating and calls for more demonstrations.

Opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim says at least 40,000 "dubious individuals" had been flown from Borneo Island to Kuala Lumpur on chartered flights since last week. The Barisan Nasional has denied allegations - backed up by an ongoing inquiry - that it illegally allowed huge numbers of foreigners, including Filipinos and Indonesians, into its two Borneo states in a bid to boost its voter base.

Malaysia has an estimated 3.1 million migrant workers, out of which two-thirds are illegal, according to official figures. Foreign workers make up a sizeable 37 per cent of the country's overall population of 28 million.

ABU's strong words and tactics were criticised by a prominent migrant-worker rights activist, who says it was wrong to go after "a vulnerable group".

"We are very concerned with the moves by ABU," said Irene Fernandez, executive director of rights group Tenaganita. "This could create anti-migrant feelings amongst the Malaysian population."

However, there is anecdotal evidence that ABU's message has been taken on board by some Malaysians. Over the past few days, a message has been circulating on Facebook calling for people to make migrants in their employment work on polling day, and not let them go out if they suspect them of having been given an identity card.

The Malaysian government said the Election Commission had gone to "extraordinary lengths" to ensure the electoral roll is as accurate as possible.

"The EC said last year that just 0.3 per cent of the roll was considered 'dubious', and most of these irregularities have since been ironed out," a government spokesman said. "During Sunday's election, indelible ink will be used for the first time to prevent voter fraud; Malaysians living overseas now have the opportunity to cast a postal vote; and the Elections Commission has appointed 17 independent NGOs to observe the election and make sure there is no fraud."

He added: "The opposition are casting doubt on the electoral system because they think they will lose the election."

Additional reporting by Reuters and Agence France-Presse