Malaysian students take to streets to demand arrest of PM Najib over corruption

Thousands of students took to the streets on August 27. Photo by Dinesh Selvarajoo.

Students took to the streets of Malaysia's capital Kuala Lumpur on August 27 to call for the immediate arrest of Malaysia's Prime Minister Najib Razak for corruption.

The protest was called “Tangkap MO1” (Arrest Malaysian Official Number 1). “MO1” is a term for the anonymous corrupt senior Malaysian government official named 33 times in documents of the US Department of Justice about the gross corruption of Malaysia's 1MDB Sovereign Fund.

MO1 is popularly believed to be Najib, as other investigations have traced missing 1MDB funds to one of his bank accounts.

The US Department of Justice said it would seize more than US$1 billion of assets allegedly bought with funds diverted from 1MDB.

Secretary-general of the Socialist Party of Malaysia (PSM) Sivarajan Arumugam told Green Left Weekly that the protest was organised by a new coalition of public and private university students.

“It was quite encouraging as they were nearly all new faces,” the PSM leader said. “Just one of the key leaders is a PSM activist.

“The students' coalition initiated this move by themselves and were not directed by BERSIH [the campaign for free and fair elections] or any other political party.

“Their demand was for the 'Malaysian Official No.1' referred to in the US reports to be arrested to face charges.

“Following the announcement of the demonstration, most civil society groups and opposition parties supported the students rally.”

Sivarajan said that since the 1MDB scandal was exposed early last year, public anger has been brewing among all sections of Malaysian society.

“The majority of Malaysians want Najib ousted. This led to the great show of protest last year when about 500,000 people gathered for the BERSIH 4 rally. However, after that BERSIH, Malaysians seemed to be running out of ideas on how to unseat the PM.

“Meanwhile, Najib has been consolidating his power within the ruling United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) party by sacking all members that dissented against him. Furthermore, he gave himself new powers to declare a state of emergency through the new National Security Council Act.”

Sivarajan said he was heartened by the size of the student protest, noting: “We did not expect a large crowd, since the universities were on semester break. The crowd was estimated to be about three to four thousand. Half of them were university students, the rest were civil society and opposition political party activists.”

The police allowed the rally to proceed with onerous conditions, he added. There were several arrests and raids on student hostels in the lead up, in a bid to intimidate students. University officials issued warnings to students, threatening expulsion.

“Authorities even called parents of those identified student leaders to further intimidate their families,” Sivarajan said. “The higher education minister also met several student representatives after the rally to 'advise' students not to protest.”

Sivarajan told Green Left Weekly the likely next steps in the campaign against the corrupt Najib government: “The Tangkap MO1 Coalition had a press conference on August 29 to announce a nationwide road show to all university campus soon.

“Meanwhile, we are still waiting for the BERSIH committee to announce when the much anticipated BERSIH 5 will be held. That would be the next key event. However, the question is what the content of the event will be.

“Since BERSIH 4, a portion of the Malaysian masses are tired and fatigued by rallies that have so far failed to bring about significant change. So it is very critical that BERSIH 5 strategises the next rally carefully to create a significant political impact.”

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