Malaysia: Bersih movement plans another giant democracy march on November 19

November 12, 2016

The Bersih (“Clean”) movement for free and fair elections in Malaysia is planning its fifth major mobilisation — dubbed “Bersih 5” — on November 19 despite attempts by authorities to ban the march and threats from the right-wing “Red Shirt” gang to attack the march.

Bersih 5 rallies and marches are also being organised by Malaysian democracy activists in more than 50 cities around the world.

The Bersih actions, which began in 2007, have drawn hundreds of thousands into the streets even when faced with violent police repression. However, the police did not attack the Bersih 4 march in August last year and it drew a half-a-million-strong crowd.

Although the organisers of the Bersih 5 march have filed all the official notifications required, they are prepared for repression. They have gathered 1000 safety personnel, 80 medical officers including doctors, nurses and paramedics to be on hand at the peaceful march.

The pro-government “Red Shirt” gang leader Jamal Yunos threatened in a press conference: “We swear to fight them [Bersih] to the end. We are prepared to do anything, even shedding blood.”

Red Shirt gangs have carried out several provocative and intimidatory actions over the last few months targeting leading democracy activists and the independent online news service, Malaysiakini.

Police have also arrested activists handing out Bersih 5 flyers or threatened them with arrest.

Activists are also worried about the possible use of new “security” laws that allow authorities to designate any area a special “security zone” and to deploy paramilitary National Security Operations Force.

Amnesty International has said the National Security Council Act empowers authorities to trample over human rights and act with impunity.

The threat to ban and or disrupt Bersih 5 reflects the political desperation of Prime Minister Najib Razak’s government, which is dogged with corruption scandals surrounding a government investment fund called 1MDB.

Investigations of these scandals have spilled into the US, Swiss, Luxembourg, Singapore, Hong Kong and UAE legal systems. 1MDB has an estimated debt of US$12 billion and much of that is alleged to have been siphoned off by Najib and his cronies.

Adding to the pressure on the Najib government is the entry of former PM Mohamed Mahathir into the broad opposition movement. This move also unsettles a significant section of the democracy movement, which is concerned that the movement does not sell out to a politician who set up the system of corruption and cronyism now presided over by PM Najib.

In the meantime, the Islamic Party (PAS), one of the major opposition parties, has declined to take part in the Bersih 5 rally. PAS had mobilised large numbers of members and supporters for the first three Bersih mobilisations and protected it with its large security contingent.

For details of Bersih 5 actions around the world see here.

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