Malaysian Police Vow to Maintain Order at Bersih 5.0 Rally

Shuman Vasu
Kuala Lumpur
161115-MY-bersih-620.jpg Bersih chairwoman Maria Chin Abdullah (second from right) signs an autograph on a banner as she and others seek support for an upcoming good government rally in Kuala Lumpur, Nov. 11, 2016.

Malaysia’s police chief warned Tuesday that officers would resort to anti-riot measures if violence broke out during a rally being planned for this weekend in Kuala Lumpur by a grassroots coalition that advocates clean government.

The weeks leading up to the Bersih 5.0 rally scheduled for Saturday have been tense, with people voicing fears that a violent confrontation could take place between yellow-clad protestors calling for the resignation of Prime Minister Najib Razak over corruption allegations and so-called Red Shirts who support his United Malays National Organization (UMNO) party.

“I would like to repeat this – all parties should follow the rule of law. Don’t get angry at us if we take steps against those who don’t obey the law,” Police Inspector-General Khalid Abu Bakar said, warning that officers could fire tear gas and use water cannon if things got out of hand.

Some standoffs between the two groups have already occurred in the run-up to the rally organized by Bersih, a coalition of NGOs advocating transparent government, as Bersih activists have campaigned nationwide to drum up support among rural Malaysians for the big demonstration in the capital on Nov. 19. The countryside is where UMNO draws much of its support.

Last year’s rally, which was dubbed Bersih 4.0 and also called for Najib’s resignation, drew 200,000 protesters to downtown Kuala Lumpur, organizers said.

The Bersih movement wants Najib to step down over allegations of corruption tied to state investment fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB). The prime minister has faced calls for his resignation following news reports in July 2015 that nearly U.S. $700 million in 1MDB-linked money wound up in his private bank accounts.

“We have planted the seed. The seed where people actually start to ask what [the] 1MDB scandal is all about,” Bersih chairwoman Maria Chin Abdullah told Agence France-Presse. “Why is it that we’re questioning the prime minister having 2.6 billion ringgit in his personal account and doesn’t need to even account for it.”

‘Law will be enforced without exception’

Najib, who has denied any wrongdoing, this week claimed he was the first to order investigations into 1MDB.

“Malaysian authorities have actually led the way in investigations into 1MDB. It was I who first instructed multiple authorities in Malaysia to conduct investigations,” Najib told the Nikkei Asian Review on Monday.

“[I] have always made clear that full cooperation should be extended to any investigation provided it is in accordance with the laws of our country. Furthermore, as I have consistently stated, if any wrongdoing is proven, the law will be enforced without exception,” he said.

The Red Shirts, led by Jamal Md Yunos, an UMNO division chief, have appeared at some of the rallies leading up to the Nov. 19 demonstration to challenge the message being promoted by Bersih.

In a text message to BenarNews, Jamal said, “lawan tetap lawan” – (the fight is still on), when reminded of Khalid’s warning.

Last month, Jamal was taken into custody by police over allegations of that he threatened to incite race riots in multi-ethnic Malaysia if Bersih, a racially diverse coalition, went ahead with the rally. Members of Malaysia’s ethnic Malay majority dominate UMNO’s ranks.

Businesses prepare for rally

Zakhir Hussin [Shuman Vasu/BenarNews]

Meanwhile, owners and workers at businesses in central Kuala Lumpur were looking forward to profiting from the upcoming rally, which will attract many potential customers to the area.

Zakhir Hussin, who owns an eatery there, said he had never encountered problems during past Bersih rallies.

“In fact, business booms during the rally. More people drop by to have food and drinks, and they have never created any issues,” he told BenarNews.

Still, he had some concerns for Saturday.

“Personally, I don’t have any problem with the Yellow Shirts. However, this time around I’m afraid there might be clashes if the Red Shirts also turn up. … That would definitely spell trouble,” Zakhir told BenarNews, adding that he would be open for business on Saturday.


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