20,000 peaceful protesters were halted last Saturday when Malaysian police fired tear gas and water cannon at citizens who were demanding fair elections and an end to one-party rule in the nation’s capital, Kuala Lumpur.
Demonstrators supporting the Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections took the battle against corruption to the streets, demanding that Prime Minister Najib Razak reform voting structures and ensure basic democratic rights.
The protest, one of the largest of recent years, was echoed around the world as Malaysian embassies were surrounded by those supporting their cause.
Dubbed Bersih 3.0 (“clean” in Malay) after two other mass demos in 2007 and last year, the movement demands voting reforms be passed before a possible June election which would allow electoral rolls to be challenged in court.
Some analysts are speculating that the protest could mark the beginning of the end of Najib’s National Front coalition’s 54-year grip on power, with severe violence being needed to stop marchers reaching the city’s Independence Stadium.
“We are prepared to engage in civil disobedience to defy unjust authority. We will not be broken by the force of violence. Instead, the police must be prepared to have their authority broken by brave Malaysians who will walk and sit in until they get arrested,” said Bersih committee member Wong Chin Huat on NutGraph.com.
A parallel demonstration was held in London to pile up the international pressure on Najib’s government. Yue-Yi Hua, who supports the movement, said: “The Bersih protest was supported by such a wide range of demographics, in terms of both socio-economics or age.
“It’s easy to be excited about being Malaysian at a time when there is such a cross-cutting show of national identity. After the London rally on Saturday a friend said: ‘Before 2007 we couldn’t keep up with the government; now they can’t keep up with us.’”