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Malaysian protesters of all ranks and ethnic groups slept in the streets of the capital overnight Saturday after they gathered in their thousands at an anti-government rally that pointed to growing discontent with Prime Minister Najib Razak over a recently disclosed funding scandal.
Earlier Saturday evening the crowd sang patriotic songs, waved flags and chanted slogans near Kuala Lumpur’s centrally imporant Independence Square as police manned barricades and prevented entry to the area, saying it was being readied for Independence Day celebrations.
The Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections, or Bersih, estimated 250,000 people attended its third major rally, counting from the days when Najib came to power in 2009.
Malaysia, as Southeast Asia’s third-largest economy has faced months of upheaval, causing an exodus of capital amid a worsening global economy, this after a report alleging Najib had received billions of ringgit in his private accounts in 2013 – which Najib denied. He then fired several critics.
While Najib has acted against his detractors, including former premier Mahathir Mohamad, and has the continuing support of senior officers in his ruling United Malays National Organisation, the very size of the rally indicates growing public dissatisfaction with his leadership at a time when the economy is slowing.
Mahathir made a brief appearance at the rally, smiling to the crowd and waving but he did not address the crowd.
It may be recalled that in 2012, riot police clashed with protesters who broke through a barricade at the square, firing tear gas and water cannon. More than 400 people were arrested in that moment. There were no reported arrests Saturday. Protests are not tolerated in Malaysia but the populace is well educated and this, plus social media for people connectivity, is bringing a new dimension into play.
“Malaysians are sending a strong message to the government,” the media reported of Ambiga Sreenevasan, a Bersih leader, addressing the crowd using a loud hailer. “Members of parliament must now move a motion of no confidence in Najib’s government.”
Previous protests drew a mostly urban crowd of minority group Chinese and Indians and it is a fact that the Malays may not go to the street so readily but that doesn’t mean they are not angry with Najib., media reported.
“I’m here to support the Bersih demands,” said one activist who came all the way from Johor Bahru on the border with Singapore, arriving with more than 200 people: “We want clean elections, a clean government and, mostly, we want to save the economy from sinking,” said the businessman.
James Ng commenting on Facebook said: “Let us never forget this fundamental truth, the State has no source of money other than money which people earn themselves. If the State wishes to spend more it can do so only by borrowing your savings or by taxing you more. It is no good thinking that someone else will pay, that ‘ Someone Else ‘ is you. There is no such thing as ‘Public Money’, there is only ‘ Taxpayer Money’.
Bersih4.0 slogan – “We just want a clean and fair election! We will fight for democracy as Malaysians!” It is taken as a healthy sign that all the flags flying during the rally were of the country rather than of any particular ethnic group or faction.
(article written from press reportage)