Ma­hathir evokes spirit of PH’s ‘Peo­ple Power’ to oust Razak

Manila Bulletin - - Front Page -

KUALA LUMPUR (AFP) – Malaysia’s gov­ern­ment re­claimed the streets of the cap­i­tal Mon­day af­ter mas­sive week­end protests de­mand­ing the premier’s ouster, stag­ing its own show of force with Na­tional Day cel­e­bra­tions at­tended by thou­sands.

With Prime Min­is­ter Na­jib Razak pre­sid­ing, masses of flag­wav­ing spec­ta­tors cheered

a col­or­ful pa­rade of sol­diers, po­lice and civil ser­vants through the city cen­tre, sym­bol­i­cally un­der­lin­ing the gov­ern­ment’s clout de­spite pres­sure for change.

Or­ga­niz­ers of the peace­ful week­end demon­stra­tions said more than 200,000 peo­ple came out to de­mand the em­bat­tled Na­jib’s re­moval over a fi­nan­cial scan­dal.

“Well, we gave it our best shot and now it’s their turn again,” said Si­mon Tam, a lawyer who at­tended the demon­stra­tions on both days.

“Get­ting Na­jib to step down is not easy, and maybe there is not much hope at all. But can we stand by and say noth­ing?”

Na­jib has been un­der pres­sure since the Wall Street Jour­nal last month pub­lished Malaysian doc­u­ments show­ing nearly $700 mil­lion had been de­posited into his per­sonal bank ac­counts, be­gin­ning in 2013.

His cab­i­net min­is­ters now ad­mit the trans­fers hap­pened, de­scrib­ing them as “po­lit­i­cal do­na­tions” from uniden­ti­fied Mid­dle Eastern sources but re­fus­ing to ex­plain fur­ther.

In­flu­en­tial ex-leader Ma­hathir Mo­hamad, who calls Na­jib cor­rupt and a poor leader and has pressed for his ouster for more than a year, caused a stir by at­tend­ing the rally on Sun­day.

The 90-year-old, who squelched civil dis­obe­di­ence dur­ing his 1981-2003 rule, evoked the 1986 Philip­pine “peo­ple power” re­volt in call­ing for Na­jib’s ouster.

“If the gov­ern­ment ig­nores the law, we have to demon­strate. If you look at (for­mer pres­i­dent Fer­di­nand) Mar­cos, when he was rul­ing the Philip­pines they had to over­throw him through demon­stra­tions,” he said.

But the chances of a “peo­ple power” re­volt in Malaysia are re­mote.

Na­jib can ‘rest easy’ Na­jib re­tains firm con­trol of the pow­er­ful rul­ing party, the United Malays Na­tional Or­ga­ni­za­tion (UMNO) and its coali­tion gov­ern­ment en­joys solid sup­port among the Mus­lim eth­nic Malays who make up more than 60 per­cent of the pop­u­la­tion.

“Na­jib can rest easy be­cause the only way any­one could re­move him is through par­lia­ment or the rul­ing party,” said Ibrahim Suf­fian, head of lead­ing Malaysian polling firm Merdeka Cen­tre.

Na­jib has al­ready faced months of al­le­ga­tions that hun­dreds of mil­lions of dol­lars dis­ap­peared from deals in­volv­ing a state-owned com­pany, and Ma­hathir, who re­mains ac­tive in UMNO, ac­cused the premier of us­ing them as party bribes to se­cure po­lit­i­cal sup­port.

But Na­jib, who firmly de­nies any wrong­do­ing, on Sun­day re­fused to step down, call­ing the protesters “shal­low­minded”.

The prime min­is­ter re­cently strength­ened his po­si­tion by purg­ing crit­ics in his cab­i­net and ap­pears to have stalled in­ves­ti­ga­tions into the scan­dal through other per­son­nel moves.

UMNO has con­trolled multi-racial Malaysia through coali­tion gov­ern­ments since in­de­pen­dence in 1957, but sup­port is slid­ing over per­sis­tent cor­rup­tion, civil lib­er­ties curbs and con­tro­ver­sial poli­cies fa­vor­ing Malays.

Na­jib had vowed ear­lier to end cor­rup­tion, ex­pand free­doms and re­form the pro-Malay poli­cies, but aban­doned those ini­tia­tives un­der pres­sure from UMNO con­ser­va­tives af­ter a 2013 elec­tion set­back.

The Elec­toral In­tegrity Pro­ject, a study of 127 coun­tries by Har­vard Univer­sity and the Univer­sity of Syd­ney, said this year Malaysia ranked 114th for elec­tion fair­ness and had the worst elec­toral laws and dis­trict bound­aries of the na­tions sur­veyed.

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