Malaysia’s long-standing race-based affirmative action “Bumiputera” policies, grants additional rights and privileges to Malays and indigenous races on many aspects of daily life. This has long been a source of discontent among other Malaysian races, leading to a “second-class citizen” identity and a reduced sense of belonging. It has become an important push-factor for these races to emigrate for higher education or highly-skilled work. As a result, the non-Bumiputera make up the bulk of Malaysia’s brain drain problem.
However, this paper argues that the experiences and knowledge obtained while living abroad and to a certain extent, discrimination in these countries have encouraged the overseas Malaysian community to cultivate interest and awareness of political developments at home. This was facilitated by the easy access of Malaysian news and political blogs online – including websites and blogs that were banned within Malaysia.
This “constructive patriotism” was especially visible during the run-up to Malaysia’s 14th General election in 2018. Overseas Malaysians were able to follow election updates closely, which spurred election-related events and rallies all over the world. Cooperating with Malaysian at home, they were also able to facilitate the timely return of postal ballots. Much of these activities were coordinated entirely on social media and related online platforms. At the end, postal votes were said to be a major factor that led to the unprecedented win of the then-opposition party in the elections. This underlines how instrumental digital technology has been for political inclusion among Malaysians wherever they may be.