In Malaysia’s heart­land, a call to ac­tion over cor­rup­tion

The Myanmar Times - - World -

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 state-owned fund 1MDB.

In pub­lic speeches, fly­ers and doorto-door 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 Novem­ber 19 to de­mand Mr Na­jib’s res­ig­na­tion.

Malaysia has been seized for more than a year by al­le­ga­tions that Mr Na­jib and as­so­ciates plun­dered bil­lions of dol­lars from 1MDB, which he founded and over­saw.

The globe span­ning scan­dal has sparked investigations in sev­eral coun­tries in­clud­ing the US, which in July filed law­suits to re­cover 1MD Blinked ill-got­ten gains.

Mr 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 Ms Chin’s warn­ings of a “cri­sis” of cor­rup­tion, as palm trees rus­tled and chick­ens squawked.

“We must change our lead­ers. Our lives now are dif­fi­cult,” said Jamiah Yop Mat Ali, 81, who yearned for “the good old days” of clean gov­ern­ment and less di­vi­sive pol­i­tics.

No one ex­pects the Novem­ber 19 rally to un­seat Mr 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.

Ber­sih also blames of­fi­cial in­tim­i­da­tion for sup­press­ing turnout.

In Kam­pung Changkat Tualang, dozens of po­lice pho­tographed vil­lagers or recorded their par­tic­u­lars at Chin’s ap­pear­ance.

The “Red Shirts”, an UMNO-aligned right­ist group has ob­structed or as­saulted Ber­sih ac­tivists and its fire­brand leader has vowed to dis­rupt the Novem­ber 19 rally, rais­ing fears of vi­o­lence.

Mem­bers of civil so­ci­ety al­liance Ber­sih in the north­ern Malaysian town of Ipoh pose for pic­tures ahead their planned demon­stra­tion in the cap­i­tal Kuala Lumpur to de­mand Prime Min­is­ter Na­jib Razak’s res­ig­na­tion.

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