In Malaysia heart­land, a call to ac­tion against cor­rup­tion

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

With yel­low flags wav­ing and vu­vuze­las blar­ing, a con­voy of two dozen cars snakes into the sleepy Malaysian town of Batu Gajah, break­ing the ru­ral calm with warn­ings of cor­rup­tion and na­tional de­cay. For nearly seven weeks, Malaysia’s lead­ing pro-re­form group has waged an in­for­ma­tion in­sur­gency through towns and vil­lages na­tion­wide, shin­ing light on a scandal in­volv­ing Prime Min­is­ter Na­jib Razak and sta­te­owned fund 1MDB.

In pub­lic speeches, fly­ers and door-todoor can­vass­ing, the un­prece­dented cam­paign at­tempts to ex­plain a highly com­plex and seem­ingly dis­tant affair in what is essen­tially hos­tile ter­ri­tory-Malaysia’s pro-govern­ment ru­ral heart­land. “We have planted the seed. The seed where peo­ple ac­tu­ally start to ask what is (the) 1MDB scandal all about?” said Maria Chin Ab­dul­lah, chair of civil-so­ci­ety al­liance Ber­sih, dur­ing a re­cent swing through ru­ral cen­tral Malaysia.

Ber­sih, an al­liance of 93 NGOs and other groups that has staged some of Malaysia’s largest-ever protests, caps its pitch with a call to at­tend a demon­stra­tion in the cap­i­tal Kuala Lumpur on Satur­day to de­mand Na­jib’s res­ig­na­tion.”There is no turn­ing back. We should not be in­tim­i­dated, be­cause for 50 years we have been in­tim­i­dated into si­lence,” Chin said, re­fer­ring to nearly six decades of con­trol by the cor­rup­tion-prone rul­ing coali­tion.

Malaysia has been seized for more than a year by al­le­ga­tions that Na­jib and as­so­ci­ates plun­dered bil­lions of dol­lars from 1MDB, which he founded and over­saw. The globe­span­ning scandal has sparked in­ves­ti­ga­tions in sev­eral coun­tries in­clud­ing the United States, which in July filed law­suits to re­cover 1MDB-linked ill-got­ten gains. Na­jib, 63, de­nies wrong­do­ing, but last year purged crit­ics and shut down do­mes­tic in­ves­ti­ga­tions. He says his ac­cusers need to “move on”. Ber­sih staged large Kuala Lumpur demon­stra­tions in re­cent years to de­mand re­form, in­clud­ing a peace­ful 1MDB protest by tens of thou­sands in Au­gust 2015. But the cur­rent cam­paign marks its first ma­jor ru­ral out­reach. Un­der a tent in the tiny oil palm ham­let of Kam­pung Changkat Tu­alang, vil­lagers lis­tened to lawyer-ac­tivist Chin’s warn­ings of a “cri­sis” of cor­rup­tion, as palm trees rus­tled and chick­ens squawked.

The mes­sage res­onated with Jamiah Yop Mat Ali, 81. She quit Na­jib’s rul­ing United Malays Na­tional Or­ga­ni­za­tion (UMNO) years ago, say­ing it had for­saken its orig­i­nal goal of Malay em­pow­er­ment in fa­vor of money pol­i­tics and pa­tron­age while poor com­mu­ni­ties strug­gled with ris­ing costs. “We must change our lead­ers. Our lives now are dif­fi­cult,” said Jamiah, who yearned for “the good old days” of clean govern­ment and less di­vi­sive pol­i­tics. No one ex­pects Satur­day’s rally to un­seat Na­jib. UMNO has won re­cent by-elec­tions and he looks se­cure. But with gen­eral elec­tions loom­ing in the next 18 months, Ber­sih hopes to raise doubts among ru­ral Malays, multi-cul­tural Malaysia’s ma­jor­ity group and UMNO’s bedrock.


PERAK, Malaysia: A child stands be­hind a plac­ard read­ing ‘Please Step Down Na­jib’ as mem­bers of civil-so­ci­ety al­liance Ber­sih pose for pic­tures ahead their demon­stra­tion in the cap­i­tal Kuala Lumpur to de­mand Na­jib’s res­ig­na­tion in Malaysia’s north­ern town of Ipoh.

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