Malaysian opposition supporters gathered by the thousands in the capital on Saturday to call for the ouster of the country’s long-ruling government in elections due within months.
Followers of the three-party alliance led by opposition firebrand Anwar Ibrahim streamed through the capital Kuala Lumpur to converge on an iconic stadium where the current ruling bloc declared independence in 1957.
“Our government is so corrupt. The government should listen to us. They need to reform. For more than 50 years they have ruled Malaysia,” said rally participant Azlan Abu Bakar, 29, who travelled from the eastern state of Terengganu for the gathering.
Access to the venue was granted by authorities this week, and as the crowds gathered, there was no hint of the violence that marred the country’s last major anti-government rally in April.
That rally, which demanded reform of an election system that the opposition and other critics say has a pro-government bias, drew tens of thousands to the streets but degenerated into clashes between demonstrators and police.
Authorities were criticised for a response widely seen as heavy-handed.
Prime Minister Najib Razak, who heads the Barisan Nasional ruling coalition, must set elections for no later than late June, but speculation of earlier polls is rife.
The ruling coalition has controlled Malaysia since independence from Britain but political observers say it faces its stiffest test yet in the coming polls after a poor showing in 2008.
Najib’s ethnic Malay-dominated ruling bloc faces an alliance comprising Anwar’s multi-ethnic party, the Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party and a third party dominated by ethnic Chinese.
Muslim Malays make up more 60 per cent of Malaysia’s 28 million people.
The government derides the opposition as a marriage of convenience incapable of governing, saying Malaysia needs Barisan Nasional’s steady hand. It also touts efforts by Najib to spark the economy and reform oppressive laws.
The opposition, however, accuses the government of massive corruption and thuggish rule, and says the country’s economy is losing a competitive edge against regional rivals enjoyed in past decades.
Opposition organisers have said the gathering at the 30,000-seat stadium will focus on continued widespread criticism of the electoral system.
Critics says the system is marred by electoral-roll fraud and other pro-government bias, and complain the government has not sufficiently followed through on a pledge by Najib to address the accusations in time for the polls.
The government denies the system is biased.