Thousands of Malaysians gathered yesterday to denounce elections which they claim were stolen through fraud by the coalition that has ruled for 56 years.
The rally was called by Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, who has vowed a “fierce” campaign for electoral reform after losing Sunday’s vote and has said he would produce evidence of fraud by what he calls an “illegitimate” government.
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak’s Barisan Nasional (“National Front”) coalition government has hotly denied the opposition’s numerous allegations of fraud.
It also denounced the gathering in a 25,000-seat stadium on the outskirts of the capital Kuala Lumpur.
In a statement, the coalition said Anwar has “deliberately chosen a small stadium to ensure it will spill onto the streets. His protest is calculated to create unrest.”
Previous election reform protests have ended in wild scenes, with police using tear gas and water cannon. Police had earlier threatened to arrest participants in last night’s rally.
However, with tension high over the country’s closest-ever election result, police backed off and a festive atmosphere prevailed as rally-goers waved opposition party flags and blared vuvuzela horns.
“I think they should redo the election,” said university student Tan Han Hui. “I’m here to support democracy. I feel the election is so unfair and there are so many dirty tricks.”
Participants filled the stadium’s stands and spilled onto the soccer field.
Anwar has battled Barisan since he was ousted from its top ranks in 1998 and jailed for six years on sex and corruption charges widely seen as trumped-up. He says the election was stolen via “unprecedented electoral fraud.”
Anwar, who was due to address the gathering later in the evening, called on Malaysians across the country to wear black in protest.
Among other allegations, voters complained that indelible ink — meant to thwart multiple voting — easily washed off.
Anwar had alleged a government scheme to fly thousands of “dubious” and possibly foreign voters to flood key constituencies.
The government has poured scorn on the allegations, but a report released yesterday by two independent watchdogs said the polls were marred by pro-government bias and irregularities that indicate “serious flaws” in the electoral system.
The Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs and Centre for Public Policy Studies cited concerns including partisan use of government machinery, pro-government media bias and doubts over the integrity of voter rolls.
The election was “only partially free and not fair,” the report said.
The vote was touted as the first in which the opposition had a chance to unseat the ruling coalition, which has governed since independence in 1957.
Barisan retained a firm parliamentary majority, despite winning less than half the popular vote, a factor blamed on gerrymandering and Barisan tinkering with electoral districts.