Malaysians jam cap­i­tal to de­mand re­form, PM’s ouster


Tens of thou­sands of Malaysians swarmed cen­tral Kuala Lumpur on Satur­day to call for the prime min­is­ter’s ouster over cor­rup­tion al­le­ga­tions and de­mand broader re­forms, de­fy­ing warn­ings by po­lice who had de­clared the rally illegal.

Streets near the cap­i­tal’s heart be­came ex­panses of yel­low, with de­mon­stra­tors don­ning the col­ors of Malaysia’s re­form move­ment in a car­ni­val at­mos­phere of po­lit­i­cal speeches, mu­si­cal per­for­mances, deaf­en­ing vu­vuze­las and self­ies.

Lead­ing civil-so­ci­ety group BER­SIH, which or­ga­nized the gath­er­ing, had planned to oc­cupy the city’s In­de­pen­dence Square overnight.

But that ap­peared foiled, with se­cu­rity bar­ri­ers and hun­dreds of po­lice bar­ring ac­cess to the his­toric area.

Mem­bers of Prime Min­is­ter Na­jib Razak’s cab­i­net have ad­mit­ted he re­ceived nearly US$700 mil­lion in mys­te­ri­ous de­posits into his per­sonal bank ac­counts start­ing in 2013.

The rev­e­la­tion, brought to light by the Wall Street Jour­nal last month, has crys­tal­lized the frus­tra­tions of many Malaysians fed up with re­cur­ring gov­ern­ment cor­rup­tion scan­dals.

“I have a six-month-old baby. I want her to grow up in a demo­cratic and cor­rup­tion-free coun­try,” said demon­stra­tor Ng Chong Yee, a busi­ness­man.

“We need to let the gov­ern­ment know we are an­gry. If we sit at home, they will not re­al­ize this.”

Peace­ful Protest

Pre­vi­ous ral­lies or­ga­nized by BER­SIH — first formed to press for re­form of an elec­toral sys­tem it con­sid­ers bi­ased in the 58-year- old gov­ern­ment’s fa­vor — have ended in clashes with po­lice, most re­cently in 2012.

But there were no in­ci­dents re­ported and crowds be­gan to thin by late af­ter­noon. Rally or­ga­niz­ers said a co­hort in­tended to stay on the cap­i­tal’s streets overnight.

Malaysian media out­lets es­ti­mated the crowds at up to 80,000.

Ear­lier Satur­day, Na­jib de­nounced the rally as dis­re­spect­ful to­wards Mon­day’s Na­tional Day.

“Are they that shal­low and poor in their pa­tri­o­tism and love for their mother­land?” he was quoted say­ing Satur­day by state-run Ber­nama news agency.

Smaller gath­er­ings also were re­ported in the cities of Kuch­ing and Kota Kinabalu on Bor­neo is­land.

Na­jib’s cab­i­net min­is­ters say the money trans­fers were le­git­i­mate “po­lit­i­cal do­na­tions” from uniden­ti­fied Mid­dle Eastern sources but have given no fur­ther de­tails.

The ac­counts have been closed and the fate of the money has not been ex­plained.

But the of­fi­cial ex­pla­na­tions have been widely mocked.

In­flu­en­tial re­tired for­mer premier Ma­hathir Mo­hamad, a harsh Na­jib critic, has called the “po­lit­i­cal do­na­tions” claim “ab­surd.”

In a state­ment Satur­day, Trans­parency In­ter­na­tional chair­man Jose Ugaz said Na­jib’s gov­ern­ment has “failed to tackle the cor­rup­tion scan­dals it faces, and peo­ple in po­si­tions of re­spon­si­bil­ity are act­ing with im­punity.”

Whither In­ves­ti­ga­tions?

Na­jib re­cently sacked of­fi­cials or ab­sorbed into his cab­i­net par­lia­men­tar­i­ans who were prob­ing the mat­ter, leav­ing the sta­tus of in­ves­ti­ga­tions un­clear.

The premier had al­ready been un­der pres­sure over months of al­le­ga­tions that huge sums had dis­ap­peared from deals in­volv­ing heav­ily in­debted state in­vest­ment com­pany 1Malaysia De­vel­op­ment Ber­had (1MDB), which Na­jib launched in 2009.

Re­cent re­ports also have de­tailed al­leged multi-mil­lion-U.S.dol­lar over­seas in­vest­ments by Na­jib fam­ily mem­bers.

Na­jib and 1MDB ve­he­mently deny wrong­do­ing.

The long­time regime al­ready had been los­ing voter sup­port over its re­cur­ring scan­dals and tough treat­ment of crit­ics.

Af­ter tak­ing power in 2009, Na­jib sought to halt this by vow­ing to end cor­rup­tion, au­thor­i­tar­i­an­ism, and to re­form con­tro­ver­sial race-based pref­er­ences for Mus­lim eth­nic Malays, the multi-racial coun­try’s ma­jor­ity group.

But those ini­tia­tives are ei­ther stalled or have been re­versed by Na­jib as he falls back on his gov­ern­ment’s con­ser­va­tive ru­ral Malay base to shore up sup­port.

Eco­nomic is­sues have ex­ac­er­bated public un­ease, in­clud­ing a new con­sump­tion tax widely blamed for rais­ing prices.

The ring­git cur­rency has slid to 17- year lows, with in­vestors rat­tled by the Na­jib fund­ing fi­asco and broader con­cerns over Malaysia’s econ­omy.

“While there is cor­rup­tion in the gov­ern­ment, they are im­pos­ing the (con­sump­tion tax) on the peo­ple. The masses are fed up,” lead­ing re­form ac­tivist Am­biga Sreenevasan told AFP at the rally.

Na­jib in­sists the econ­omy is in solid shape. He calls the graft al­le­ga­tions a “con­spir­acy” by un­named op­po­nents to top­ple him.

Na­jib re­cently purged crit­ics from his cab­i­net and is widely ex­pected to ride out the tur­moil thanks to his gov­ern­ment’s firm con­trol of key in­sti­tu­tions such as the po­lice and ju­di­ciary.

(Left) Protesters sit along the main road in down­town Kuala Lumpur dur­ing a rally or­ga­nized by pro-democ­racy group BER­SIH, Satur­day, Aug. 29.

(Right) Ac­tivists from the Coali­tion for Clean and Fair Elec­tions (BER­SIH) march dur­ing a rally in Kuala Lumpur, on Satur­day.


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