MALAYSIA

‘We will protest every Saturday until we obtain free and fair elections’

 Malaysian opposition protests are gaining momentum both on the streets and on the Web after a banned demonstration in Kuala Lumpur on Saturday ended with a wave of mass arrests. A Facebook petition has seen more than 170,000 people call for Prime Minister Najib Razak to quit, while protest organisers say they will take to the streets every Saturday until their demands for electoral reform are met.  

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Published on Twitter by  @JasonMumbles.

 

Malaysian opposition protests are gaining momentum both on the streets and on the Web after a banned demonstration in Kuala Lumpur on Saturday ended with a wave of mass arrests. A Facebook petition has seen more than 170,000 people call for Prime Minister Najib Razak to quit, while protest organisers say they will take to the streets every Saturday until their demands for electoral reform are met.

 

For the first time since 2007, tens of thousands of opposition demonstrators marched though the city to denounce what they say are the fraudulent electoral methods of the ruling Barisan Nasional (National Front) party, in power since Malaysia gained independence in 1957.

 

The yellow-clad supporters of opposition movement “Bersih 2.0” (‘Bersih’ means ‘clean’ in Malay and 2.0 is in reference to the key role the Internet has played in spreading the movement’s message) defied the protest ban for several hours on Saturday before being dispersed by police who fired water cannons and tear gas. 1,667 people were arrested, including several opposition MPs and supporters of Anwar Ibrahim, the country’s most prominent opposition leader. Ibrahim himself was injured during the protests after a brief scuffle with police, and treated in a hospital for minor contusions.

 

The death of a 59-year-old taxi driver during the protest has further fuelled popular anger.  Police say he was just a bystander who suffered a sudden heart attack, but protesters allege he collapsed while running to escape tear gas.

 

Protesters gathered in front of Kuala Lumpur’s Maybank Tower on July 9. Photo sent by one of our Observers, who prefers to remain anonymous.

 

Founded in October 2010, “Bersih” is a coalition of parties and opposition NGOs that obtained unexpectedly high scores in the 2008 legislative elections. Its leaders are concerned that the upcoming elections in 2013 will be rigged to prevent them from gaining more seats in parliament.

 

Water cannons and tear gas were used to disperse the crowd. Video published on YouTube by earlku.

 

"I felt that I was reclaiming my country"

 

Fahli Fadzil participated in the protest in Kuala Lumpur on Saturday. He works for opposition MP Nunul Izzah Anwar, the daughter of opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim.

 

It was magic to be out in the street on Saturday. I had never seen such a huge crowd mobilize in Malaysia, not even in [the pre-electoral protests of] 2007. Many of my friends were protesting for the first time. I had the impression that their eyes were finally opening. Nobody was afraid. I felt alive and powerful, I felt that I was reclaiming my country.

 

“We are asking for a simple, basic measure: indelible ink on each voter’s finger"

 

We have eight main demands that aim to allow free and fair elections in Malaysia. Our proposals range from a more balanced media coverage of different parties to a very simple, basic measure: indelible ink on each voter’s finger, to prevent people from casting multiple ballots.

 

We protest in yellow because it is the colour of the royal family. We want to show that, despite the claims of government propagandists, we are not anti-monarchy radicals. We have nothing against the King.

 

“Freedom of expression in Malaysia is limited”

 

Some of my close friends were arrested after the protest. They weren’t manhandled or brutalised, but police questioned them about their presence in the demonstration. Freedom of expression is limited in Malaysia. In June, several bloggers were arrested. That’s why Facebook and Twitter play a key role in this movement. The hashtag #Bersih allowed us to show the world that, despite the protest ban, there are tens of thousands of us fighting for the same cause.

 

In response to our demands, the government has vaguely promised an unnecessarily complicated and expensive biometric voting system. A measure like that will take ages to put in place. All we’re asking for is ink on fingers! We have decided to call for weekly protests: we will be out in the street every Saturday until we obtain free and fair elections.”

 

This video, titled “Calm before the storm”, shows policemen vainly attempt to filter and block protesters from accessing the city centre. Video posted on YouTube by opposition website Malaysiakini.

 

Policemen preparing to charge protesters in Kuala Lumpur on July 9. Photo sent by one of our Observers.

 

 

Parody of the famous iPhone game Angry Birds, in which the traditional ‘pig’ targets are decked with the Malaysian police’s red helmets. Image posted on Twitter by @JasonMumbles.