Pendatang asing

"Pendatang asing" or "orang pendatang" is a common Malay phrase used to refer to foreigners or immigrants; "pendatang asing" literally means "foreign comer" or "foreign immigrant". Although most frequently used to refer to foreign immigrants, especially illegal immigrants, pendatang asing has been used by some politicians in Malaysia as pejorative way of addressing non-Bumiputera Malaysians.

Offensive usage

In a Malaysian political context, it is commonly used as a pejorative way of addressing the ethnic Chinese and Indians, who are not Bumiputera of Malaysia.


During the early 1950s, there was an active Straits Chinese secessionist movement in Penang agitating against ketuanan Melayu.

During the pre-Independence period, some Straits Chinese began taking an active interest in local politics, especially in Penang, where there was an active Chinese secessionist movement. They identified themselves more with the British than the Malays and were especially angered by references to them as pendatang asing ("aliens"). They avoided both the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) and the Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA), believing that while UMNO and the Malay extremists were intent on extending Malay privileges and restricting Chinese rights, the MCA was too "selfish", and could not be relied on to protect their interests.[1]

They had already raised their ire in the late 1940s, when the government proposed to amend the Banishment Ordinance — which allowed for the exile of Malayans "implicated in acts of violence"[2] — to permit those born in the Straits Settlements to be banished to their ancestral homeland. This was a revolting idea for most of the Straits Chinese.

They were also uncomfortable about the merger of the Straits Settlements with Malaya, as they did not feel a sense of belonging to what they considered a "Malaya for the Malays", where they were not considered bumiputra ("sons of the soil"). One Straits Chinese leader indignantly declared, "I can claim to be more anak Pulau Pinang [a son of Penang] than 99 per cent of the Malays living here today."[3] The secessionist movement eventually petered out, however, because of the government's stout refusal to entertain the idea of Penang seceding from the Federation.[4]

Post Independence

The phrase pendatang asing has strong connotations, and is often used in heated political situations. One such example was the May 13 Incident, where racial rioting in 1969 was triggered by a trading of political insults.

Another example is the prelude to the Ops Lallang in 1987 and the 1988 Malaysian constitutional crisis. In November 1986, MCA Selangor of which MCA's deputy president Lee Kim Sai was its head, passed a resolution in its annual convention to make it an offence to call any of the three major races immigrants or pendatang. The resolution, which stated that Malaysia's three major races originated from other countries and that none of them should brand the others as immigrants and claim themselves to be natives.[5] This was interpreted as challenging the bumiputra status of the Malays, and led to calls for Lee's sacking by members of UMNO.[6] A compromise was eventually worked out whereby the term pendatang would not be used to describe any community and the bumiputera status of the Malays was not to be questioned. During this period, UMNO and pro-Chinese organisations frequently traded insults, with current Prime Minister, who was then UMNO Youth Chief Najib Razak. At a rally in 1987 in Kampung Baru in Kuala Lumpur, banners were hoisted carrying phrases such as "revoke the citizenship of those who oppose the Malay rulers", "May 13 has begun" (referring to the 13 May racial riots in 1969), and "soak it (the keris) with Chinese blood". [7] The tensions eased after Ops Lallang, when several political dissidents — most of them Chinese — were detained without trial under the Internal Security Act.

Tensions flared in 2004 when it was proposed to open the currently Bumiputra-only Universiti Teknologi MARA to all Malaysians. Malay media made comments about the pendatang making a "daring challenge to Malay rights". [8]

Debate over its appropriateness

Non-Malay members of the opposition media have contended that the common use of phrases like "pendatang asing" validates their belief that non-Malay Malaysians are treated as second-class citizens. It has also been argued that the derogatory use of "pendatang asing" is inappropriate, as almost all of Malaysia's Prime Ministers have had foreign blood. [9] [10]

Illegal immigrants

Since the 1980s when Malaysia first experienced economic boom, the country has seen massive influx of immigrants and foreigners from many neighbouring countries such as Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Myanmar. Recently, Malaysia has been the destination for many Bangladeshis, Indians and Pakistanis that are looking for employment. While many entered Malaysia legally, labour shortage in Malaysia has encouraged many employers to employ illegal immigrants. Of late, the Malaysian government has tried to repatriate many of these illegal immigrants back to their countries of origin. Such effort however has annoyed several governments such as Indonesia and India.

See also


  1. Sopiee, Mohamed Noordin (1976). From Malayan Union to Singapore Separation: Political Unification in the Malaysia Region 1945 – 65, pp. 77 – 78. Penerbit Universiti Malaya. No ISBN available.
  2. Drohan, Brian (2006). "An integrated approach: British political-military strategy in the Malayan emergency". Retrieved 11 April 2006.
  3. Sopiee, pp. 61 – 62.
  4. Sopiee, p. 69.
  5. Lee Kam Hing (2003). "The Bumiputera Policy: Chinese Views and Perspective" (PDF). Kajian Malaysia. XXI (l&2).
  6. "Sack Kim Sai, UMNO Youth tells govt". New Straits Times. 18 October 1987. Retrieved 27 January 2010.
  7. Lim, Kit Siang (2000). "GPMS' extremist demands - a prelude to escalation of ethnic tensions to justify another Operation Lalang mass crackdown to shore up Mahathir and UMNO’s tottering position?". Retrieved 21 December 2005.
  8. Ooi, Jeff (2004). "UiTM and 'Malay Agenda'". Retrieved 29 January 2006.
  9. Pillai, M.G.G. (2005). "The Japanese won us our Merdeka". Retrieved 8 February 2006.
  10. Pillai, M.G.G. (2005). "The vigilante bigots". Malaysiakini.
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