After the protests, Malaysia celebrates

Prime Minister Najib Razak (right), with his deputy Ahmad Zahid Hamidi (left) and Communications and Multimedia Minister Salleh Said Keruak, at Dataran Merdeka in Kuala Lumpur before the start of Independence Day celebrations yesterday. Malaysia's 58
Prime Minister Najib Razak (right), with his deputy Ahmad Zahid Hamidi (left) and Communications and Multimedia Minister Salleh Said Keruak, at Dataran Merdeka in Kuala Lumpur before the start of Independence Day celebrations yesterday. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
Prime Minister Najib Razak (right), with his deputy Ahmad Zahid Hamidi (left) and Communications and Multimedia Minister Salleh Said Keruak, at Dataran Merdeka in Kuala Lumpur before the start of Independence Day celebrations yesterday. Malaysia's 58
Malaysia's 58th Independence Day Parade in Kuala Lumpur's Merdeka Square yesterday featured (above) participants waving national flags; members of the Special Operations Force; and military personnel and vehicles.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
Prime Minister Najib Razak (right), with his deputy Ahmad Zahid Hamidi (left) and Communications and Multimedia Minister Salleh Said Keruak, at Dataran Merdeka in Kuala Lumpur before the start of Independence Day celebrations yesterday. Malaysia's 58
Malaysia's 58th Independence Day Parade in Kuala Lumpur's Merdeka Square yesterday featured participants waving national flags; members of the Special Operations Force (above); and military personnel and vehicles.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY
Prime Minister Najib Razak (right), with his deputy Ahmad Zahid Hamidi (left) and Communications and Multimedia Minister Salleh Said Keruak, at Dataran Merdeka in Kuala Lumpur before the start of Independence Day celebrations yesterday. Malaysia's 58
Malaysia's 58th Independence Day Parade in Kuala Lumpur's Merdeka Square yesterday featured participants waving national flags; members of the Special Operations Force; and military personnel and vehicles (above).PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

Najib presides over colourful parade in KL just hours after massive weekend rally demanding his resignation

Prime Minister Najib Razak presided over a colourful parade cheered by thousands of flag-waving spectators yesterday, the annual Independence Day event coming mere hours after the biggest show of disapproval against his governance.

Electoral reforms group Bersih, which organised the 34-hour weekend rally, claimed it attracted half a million people, a figure rubbished by government officials.

At a press conference yesterday, its leaders thanked the police for their restraint at the peaceful rally.

Despite the huge turnout of yellow-clad protesters, the leaders acknowledged it remained an uphill battle to oust Datuk Seri Najib and begin the process of reforming public institutions and an election system they see as flawed.

"Now begins the even harder work of getting the reforms going, as well as insisting on the resignation of the Prime Minister," Bersih chief Maria Chin Abdullah said at the press conference.

Bersih leaders, echoing the sentiments of influential former premier Mahathir Mohamad, who visited the rally twice, said it had repeatedly implored Malaysians to lobby their MPs to support a vote of no confidence against Mr Najib.

The Prime Minister is facing intense pressure to step down over his handling of debt-laden state investor 1Malaysia Development Berhad and over allegations that US$700 million (S$986 million) in state funds had found its way into his personal bank accounts.

On July 28, Mr Najib threw out his critics in the Cabinet, including his deputy Muhyiddin Yassin, to tighten his hold on the Umno-led Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition. BN's 132 MPs control a healthy majority in the 222-member Parliament.

Bersih's planned road map - it wants a transitional government to oversee core reforms to allow fair elections to be called in a year - is likely to face resistance from opposition lawmakers who see an opportunity to take power themselves.

Said Ms Maria: "Politicians will have their own agenda. We have to talk and convince both BN and the opposition. If parties have their own agenda, we have to talk about it."

Deputy Prime Minister and Home Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi has said the government would take action against those taking part in what it called an illegal rally.

"We are ready, bring it on," said Ms Maria.

"When we organised this rally, we are prepared already. If they want to arrest us for whatever reason, we are ready for them," she added, noting that the authorities had not informed them of any investigations as yet.

Deputy Home Minister Nur Jazlan Mohamed dismissed claims that 500,000 people attended the Bersih rally, saying the number was more likely to be 50,000.

"Even at today's Merdeka parade, you see 13,000 people and Dataran Merdeka was full, so how can they say hundreds of thousands of people were there?" he was quoted as saying by Malay Mail Online.

Many eateries and petty traders reported brisk business during the rally in the heart of Kuala Lumpur. However, Bernama news agency reported some shopkeepers complaining they lost out because customers were afraid to enter the city.

Seven yellow balloons, with words such as "Free media" and "Democracy", were released from a high floor of a shopping mall when Mr Najib was there to attend an arts festival launch yesterday, according to a Malaysiakini report.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 01, 2015, with the headline 'After the protests, Malaysia celebrates'. Print Edition | Subscribe