Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim urged voters to oust the country’s long-ruling government as tens of thousands of supporters gathered yesterday in a show of force ahead of coming elections.
At least 50,000 people crowded into an iconic stadium in Kuala Lumpur where independence was declared in 1957 and tens of thousands more thronged surrounding areas as the opposition effectively began its campaign.
“We plead for you to give us a chance so that the people’s voices will become the voices of the leaders of this nation,” Anwar said as he denounced what he called the government’s misrule and corruption.
“The time has come to bury the unfairness of this government,” he declared.
The Barisan Nasional coalition has controlled Malaysia since independence from Britain and was never seriously threatened until Anwar’s opposition alliance handed the ruling bloc its worst election showing ever in 2008.
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak must face elections no later than June in a contest that is shaping up as the nation’s most intriguing yet, with the opposition seeking to harness the winds of change that powered the “Arab Spring” in the Middle East.
There was no hint yesterday of the violence that marred the country’s last major anti-government rally in April last year.
That rally, for reform of an election system that the opposition and other critics say is skewed in the government’s favor, drew tens of thousands to the streets, but degenerated into clashes between demonstrators and police.
Critics say the electoral system is rife with voter-roll fraud and other pro-government bias, and complain the government has not followed through on a pledge to address alleged unfairness in time for the polls.
The government denies the system is biased.
“If you cheat in this election, the people will rise to overthrow you,” Anwar said in comments directed at the country’s Election Commission, which is widely seen as pro-government.