Tension as Bersih kicks off nationwide roadshow

Bersih members (left) drumming up support for their movement in Gelang Patah, Johor yesterday while an anti-Bersih group dressed in red shirts (above) hold their own demonstration in Penang.
Bersih members (above) drumming up support for their movement in Gelang Patah, Johor yesterday while an anti-Bersih group dressed in red shirts hold their own demonstration in Penang.PHOTOS: THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK
Bersih members (left) drumming up support for their movement in Gelang Patah, Johor yesterday while an anti-Bersih group dressed in red shirts (above) hold their own demonstration in Penang.
Bersih members drumming up support for their movement in Gelang Patah, Johor yesterday while an anti-Bersih group dressed in red shirts (above) hold their own demonstration in Penang.PHOTOS: THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

Dozens of opposing 'Red Shirt' demonstrators get into minor scraps with Bersih activists in Lumut, Perak

Political movement Bersih kicked off its seven-week nationwide roadshow yesterday, with six convoys involved in minor incidents as they made their way through rural Malaysia in a bid to gain Malay support for their campaign to force Prime Minister Najib Razak to resign.

The Premier has been embroiled in a corruption scandal involving more than US$700 million (S$954 million) found in his personal bank accounts.

Hundreds joined the groups travelling through Kelantan, Johor, Sabah and Sarawak who greeted locals without facing harassment, but there were stand-offs in the coastal town of Lumut, Perak as well as northerly Kangar in Perlis with "Red Shirt" opponents.

The pro-Malay Red Shirts have vowed to continue their anti-Bersih movement, having last year organised a mass street rally in response to the latter's overnight demonstration in Kuala Lumpur that brought the city to a standstill in August.

While the Red Shirts in the north - with a Cabinet minister from the ruling Umno, Mr Shahidan Kassim, in their number - greeted the yellow-clad Bersih group in a civilised manner, the scene in Lumut was more tense, as dozens of men in red, led by Umno division chief Jamal Yunos, tried to obstruct the convoy before police intervened.

"They shouted, 'Mati Bersih' (Die Bersih), and at one point, one of their cars actually overtook us and blocked our car, resulting in a slight knock," news portal Free Malaysia Today quoted human rights activist Ivy Josiah as saying.

She added that Bersih flags were ripped off their cars as motorcycles followed them down the streets of Lumut. An online video also showed a man in red attacking Bersih supporters and yelling at them to "go home".

The roadshows will culminate in a Nov 19 rally, the second in 15 months aimed at ousting Datuk Seri Najib over allegedly using money from 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) - the state firm he controls - to win the 2013 elections.

The Premier has claimed that US$681 million was a donation from the Saudi royal family, but the United States Department of Justice said that US$3.5 billion was siphoned out of 1MDB, with over US$700 million going into the accounts of a "Malaysian Official 1", which a ruling coalition spokesman confirmed was Mr Najib.

The nationwide roadshow is a bid to overcome the striking lack of participation from the Malay majority in last year's Bersih rally, a situation exploited by Mr Najib's ruling Malay party. It backed the Red Shirts and echoed the claim that Bersih, an alliance of 94 civil society organisations, was part of a Chinese-led plot to usurp political power from Malays.

The first three Bersih rallies had mostly Malay supporters, thanks to Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS), the country's biggest Islamic party. But it now refuses to cooperate with Bersih.

Bersih chief Maria Chin Abdullah was in PAS-controlled Kelantan yesterday, along with the party's former vice- president Husam Musa, who left PAS after disagreements with its leadership.

"PAS, which claims to be championing Islam, should be seen as championing change," said Datuk Husam, who was also a state government leader until 2013.

In Kuala Lumpur, Umno secretary-general Tengku Adnan Tengku Mansor warned that continued clashes between Bersih and the Red Shirts would lead to riots.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on October 02, 2016, with the headline 'Tension as Bersih kicks off nationwide roadshow'. Print Edition | Subscribe