Malaysia opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim plans to hold protest rallies around Malaysia after vowing to contest the results of 30 seats lost in the country’s May 5 election, enough to swing the vote.
Police said about 60,000 opposition supporters gathered at a stadium near Kuala Lumpur last night, defying threats of arrest and heavy rains. The crowd blew horns, chanted “ubah” - - or “change” -- and wore black T-shirts with “050513” to mark the date of the poll won by Prime Minister Najib Razak’s coalition, which lost a majority of the popular vote for the first time in 44 years amid a record 85 percent turnout.
“We will continue this struggle and we will never surrender,” Anwar told his supporters. “This is merely the beginning of the battle between the rakyat and an illegitimate, corrupt and arrogant government,” he said, using the Malay word for “people.”
The planned protest tour could heighten tensions as Anwar seeks momentum for his claims the election was rigged after his alliance ended up with 44 fewer seats than Najib’s 13-party Barisan Nasional group even as it won more total votes. Malaysia’s benchmark stock index fell for a second day after gains in the two sessions immediately following the vote.
At last night’s rally, 28 of 33 opposition leaders delivered speeches that violated a sedition law, and the group also broke public assembly legislation, Bernama reported today, citing Selangor police chief Tun Hisan Tun Hamzah. The opposition supporters plans to gather again tomorrow in Ipoh in Perak state, and meet in Penang the following day, Tian Chua, vice president with Anwar’s People’s Justice Party, said in a phone interview.
“We call on all Malaysians to come forward to share their experiences and help us get to the truth,” Lim Kit Siang, founder of the opposition Democratic Action Party, now the biggest member of Anwar’s alliance, told last night’s rally, according to a transcript. “A victory that is earned through money, lies and manipulation is not a victory at all.”
Lim, whose majority ethnic Chinese party expanded its seat take, said the opposition will contest results in at least 30 seats where it alleges electoral fraud occurred. Anwar repeated the claim.
The Election Commission has said the vote ran smoothly. Candidates have 21 days to file petitions challenging results, commission Chairman Abdul Aziz Mohd Yusof told Radio24 yesterday, state-run Bernama news service reported. After that, a judge can void the result if fraud occurred and a by-election would be called, he was quoted as saying.
Rafizi Ramli, strategic director for Anwar’s People’s Justice Party, said as many as 80,000 people showed up last night in and outside the stadium, which he said has a capacity of about half that size. Traffic was at a standstill in surrounding streets.
Selangor’s police chief said he estimated the crowd at about 60,000 people in a text message. No security forces blocked people from attending.
The benchmark FTSE Bursa Malaysia KLCI Index, which has risen a total of 4.2 percent since the election, fell 0.5 percent today. The ringgit weakened 0.4 percent to 2.9737 against the dollar, bringing its total gain since the poll to 2 percent, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
Investors are not concerned about the opposition’s move to challenge the results in court, according to Lye Thim Loong, who helps manage the equivalent of $500 million at Libra Invest Bhd.
“Investors are taking the results as status quo and nothing will change,” he said by phone in Kuala Lumpur. “A lot of money has been put into the market.”
Najib’s coalition won 133 of 222 parliamentary seats, its worst showing in 13 straight election wins since Malaysia gained independence from Britain in 1957. It won 47 percent of all votes for parliamentary seats in an election with a record turnout, compared with 51 percent for Anwar’s coalition, Election Commission data showed.
Anwar cited the total vote tally in a statement two days ago disputing the outcome and accusing the Election Commission of “being complicit in the worst electoral fraud in our nation’s history.”
The election was “free and fair” and Anwar’s rally was “calculated to create unrest,” Najib’s office said in a statement yesterday. It also rejected parts of a report released by the Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs, a group accredited by the Election Commission to observe the vote, saying it “strays far outside the original mandate.”
The group, known as IDEAS, said yesterday the election was “only partially free and not fair.” While the campaign period proceeded “without any major glitches,” wider issues such as media bias and unequal constituency sizes gave an advantage to Najib’s coalition.
“There is this big issue of delineation” of electoral districts, said Ramon Navaratnam, chairman of the Centre for Public Policy Studies, which released the report together with IDEAS. “You can make all the improvements, but if that structural fundamental issue is not resolved, it’s always going to be regarded as an unfair electoral process.”
Anwar, a former finance minister and a member of Najib’s party until his ouster in 1998, struggled to swing voters in government strongholds where his own Malay ethnic group is dominant. Najib attributed his loss in Selangor, where the opposition took 17 of 22 seats, to a “Chinese tsunami” against the government.
Ethnic Chinese make up about a quarter of Malaysia’s 29 million people, while about 60 percent are Malays and indigenous groups together known as Bumiputera, or “sons of the soil.” The opposition rejected Najib’s analysis of the election outcome in racial terms, a sensitive topic in a country where hundreds were killed in Sino-Malay riots in 1969.
“It serves no good purpose, but only self-interest, to speak of and emphasize the election results along racial lines,” Christopher Leong, president of the Malaysian Bar Council, said in a statement yesterday. “Spewing venom and spreading discord must not be the Malaysian way.”