Plans for 'oust Najib' protests fizzle out

Malaysia's Prime Minister Najib Razak making an announcement in Kuala Lumpur.
Malaysia's Prime Minister Najib Razak making an announcement in Kuala Lumpur. PHOTO: REUTERS

Bersih split over how much rally can pull off while opposition bickers about snap polls

Efforts to pressure Prime Minister Najib Razak with public protests today, over damaging claims by the United States that US$3.5 billion (S$4.7 billion) was siphoned out of a state fund under his watch, have fizzled out.

Despite two meetings since the revelations by the US Department of Justice (DOJ) last week, the 94 civil society bodies that make up democratic reform group Bersih are still at odds over whether another street rally would boost pressure for Datuk Seri Najib's ouster.

And the Pakatan Harapan (PH) opposition alliance - which supported Bersih's past four demonstrations - is also divided over a pledged "political action" now that Mr Najib has refused to step down by the deadline set by PH.

PH, made up of Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR), the Democratic Action Party (DAP) and Parti Amanah Negara, had warned that if Mr Najib failed to vacate his office by yesterday, "then Pakatan Harapan will mobilise the people in a political action" the following day.

"A PKR leader wanted to push for a march from Kuala Lumpur to Putrajaya for July 30, but it's not possible to organise such an ambitious event in such a short time. Bersih is also still at loggerheads over a rally," a PH source who was at the leadership meeting that issued the ultimatum told The Straits Times.

DAP organising secretary Anthony Loke said on Thursday that the parties had yet to come to a decision about what action to take.

Instead, PKR and DAP spent the week squabbling over whether to hold snap polls in Penang, where Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng, who is also DAP secretary-general, is alleging a conspiracy over graft charges linked to the purchase of his home.

Bersih - which brought the capital to a standstill with a protest by reportedly 100,000 people demanding Mr Najib's resignation in August last year - is set to meet again today.

According to its northern region coordinator, Datuk Toh Kin Woon, there were questions over "what we can achieve".

Mr Toh, a former state leader in the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition, said there were concerns over the ethnic mix as the lack of Malays at last year's rally was exploited by Mr Najib's government.

Mr Toh said some activists were also against the involvement of former premier Mahathir Mohamad. Tun Dr Mahathir, accused of dictatorial abuses during his 22 years in power, is spearheading a campaign to topple Mr Najib over claims that about US$700 million found in Mr Najib's private accounts in 2013 was stolen from 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB).

"But some of us feel, why not, as he still has some influence with the Malay crowd," Mr Toh told The Straits Times.

The DOJ in its civil suits last week named Mr Najib's stepson Riza Aziz and businessman Low Taek Jho, a former Najib confidant, as having laundered money out of 1MDB, the troubled state fund controlled by the premier - resulting in a move to seize US$1 billion in assets.

Mr Najib has maintained that the money in his accounts was a political donation from the Saudi royal family. He said last week that the US lawsuits were "a civil action... limited to the names mentioned in the DOJ report".

After Umno's top leadership meeting yesterday, Mr Najib said no action would be taken by the Malaysian government over the suits, as 1MDB was not directly involved.

While the Umno Supreme Council acknowledged that several individuals were named in the suits, "this means that 1MDB is not directly involved in the complaint. In other words, there are no 1MDB assets in the US".

•Additional reporting by Trinna Leong

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 30, 2016, with the headline 'Plans for 'oust Najib' protests fizzle out'. Print Edition | Subscribe