Malaysia: Mass rallies continue against election 'robbers' (+photo story)
Popular PSM leader Arul at May 25 "Voice of the People 505" rally at Dataran Petaling Jaya. Photo by Keow Wee Loong.
By Peter Boyle, photos by Keow Wee Loong
May 31, 2013 -- Green Left Weekly/Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal -- Mass rallies protesting the "robbery" of the May 5 Malaysian general election have continued for weeks despite government threats and the arrests of six prominent opposition activists on "sedition" charges. The fact that the corruptly entrenched Barisan Nasional coalition "won" 60% of the parliamentary seats with just 47% of the official vote and the many reports of blatant vote-buying and cheating, has created an ongoing legitimacy crisis.
Rumours of an impending internal party challenge to the leadership of PM Najib Razak in the United Malay National Organisation (UMNO), the dominant party in BN, have added to this crisis.
A rally of between 50-70,000 took place in a stadium in Petaling Jaya (a satellite city to the capital, Kuala Lumpur) on May 25 even though the police had claimed it was illegal assembly and that anyone who participated risked arrest. However, as crowds of mainly black-clad opposition supporters converged on the stadium through the afternoon and evening, there was little obvious police presence, according to eyewitnesses.
Since the elections other huge "Blackout 505" rallies have been held around the country. The crowds at these rallies have been overwhelmingly young and angry and their sentiment was echoed on May 25 by student activist, and Socialist Party of Malaysia member Bawani KS who rose to fame when a YouTube of a clash with a pro-BN university lecturer went viral (see "Listen, listen, listen" here) earlier this year:
“We have warned the electoral commission and the government to play it fair at the elections, but they robbed us off a fair election. Now face our wrath,” she told the uproarious crowd. “All of you here, are here not only as Malaysians but as soldiers clad in black. Fighting to win for democracy.”
Bawani said that the arrests under the Sedition Act would not stop the people from standing up for their rights. “They can arrest one thousand people but I assure you, another thousand will spawn,” she said.
Later that night, the rally was addressed by opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim who reaffirmed to thunderous applause: "Let me make it very clear... Yes, we won the elections and there is no way we will ever concede this government to be legitimate."
"They have used the SPR [electoral commission] to steal our rights. They have cheated the people. All the voters have been cheated. And we will never surrender."
Rejecting government leaders attempts to racialise the election result by branding it a "Chinese tsunami", the opposition leader said that poor Malays, Chinese and Indians shared a common interest against the BN. "Yes we are are poor but we have dignity and we are angry... We will not concede defeat to the robbers!"
The opposition is developing a common strategy around three demands:
1. A call for the immediate resignation for the heads of senior
officials of the electoral commission. The opposition Pakatan Rakyat
coalition is seeking to sign up 500,000 volunteers
to protest at the electoral commission offices until these official
resign in favour of replacements who report directly to parliament.
2. New ballots for the 30 or so seats in where the opposition says there is proof of cheating.
3. Support for a people's tribunal – organised by the Bersih movement for free and fair elections – to investigate the election fraud.
Several opposition leaders have been charged under Section 9(1) of the Peaceful Assembly Act for failing to provide a 10-day notice to the police prior to holding the Blackout rallies in the states of Penang, Perak, Negeri Sembilan and Johor. "Blackout 505" rallies have yet to be held in several states, including Perlis, Kelantan, Sabah and Sarawak, and Ibrahim has said the mass mobilisations will continue.
The six opposition activists who have been charged with sedition, under colonial era laws condemned by Amnesty International as an infringement to free speech, are: Justice Party (PKR) MP Tian Chua, Anything But Umno (ABU) leader Haris Ibrahim, Islamic Party (PAS) member Tamrin Gaffar, political and cultural activist Hishamuddin Rais and two student activists Adam Adli and Muhammed Safwan. All but Safwan (who refused bail) have been released on bail after charges were laid.
In a further act of intimidation towards opposition activists, the
director general of the home ministry, Alias Ahmad, was reported to have
revoke the passports of Malaysians abroad found to have taken part in
anti-government activities. However, Global Bersih (a group that has
successfully organised support among Malaysians abroad for the Bersih
campaign for free and fair elections) told Malaysians abroad to "ignore
such threats and keep in mind that it is their constitutional right to
freely express their opinion on all matters, including the divisive
state of politics and recently concluded poll."