Police blocked off parts of the Malaysian capital as thousands of protesters prepared to descend on the city for a weekend rally demanding Prime Minister Najib Razak’s resignation.
The Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections, or Bersih, expects about 200,000 people to demonstrate in Kuala Lumpur in its third major protest since Najib came to power in 2009. Police have deemed the gathering illegal and around 4,000 of them will be deployed.
Malaysia has faced two months of political upheaval after a report that Najib received billions of ringgit in his private accounts in 2013, and as he reshuffled the cabinet to remove detractors including his deputy.
While Najib has pushed back against detractors including former premier Mahathir Mohamad, and retains the support of senior officials in his party, a large rally would indicate growing public dissatisfaction with his leadership at a time the economy is slowing. Protests are also planned in other parts of Malaysia and countries including Australia.
“It will be the mother of protests — the police will jam the phone lines and make it difficult for us to protest,” said David Lee, a 23-year-old college student. “It’s our right. We want to say no to Najib.”
The concern is the political noise is distracting the administration from the financial turbulence hitting the country amid a broader regional slump, said Chua Hak Bin, an economist at Bank of America Merrill Lynch in Singapore. Foreign funds have dumped more than $3 billion of the nation’s shares this year and the ringgit hit a 17-year low.
“The fear is that it escalates into something violent,” Chua said of the protests.
Police have backed off a possible plan to use tasers, warning protesters not to break the law, MalaysiaKini reported this week. In 2012, riot police clashed with protesters who broke through a barricade at Independence Square, firing tear gas and water cannons. Over 400 people were arrested. Continue reading