Thousands rally in Malaysia against planned GST

A protester holds a flare during a May Day protest in Kuala Lumpur on May 1, 2014. Thousands have gathered in downtown Kuala Lumpur to protest against the Goods-and-Services Tax (GST) to be introduced next year. -- PHOTO: AFP
A protester holds a flare during a May Day protest in Kuala Lumpur on May 1, 2014. Thousands have gathered in downtown Kuala Lumpur to protest against the Goods-and-Services Tax (GST) to be introduced next year. -- PHOTO: AFP

Thousands have gathered in downtown Kuala Lumpur to protest against the Goods-and-Services Tax (GST) to be introduced next year.

The rally, known as the May 1 anti-GST Rally 2014, began at 2pm on Thursday with some of the protesters walking from the Kuala Lumpur City Centre Park to Jalan Raja, the venue of the rally.

Kluang member of parliament Liew Chin Tong said in a speech: "Today marks a new beginning for Malaysia because we are not only protesting against unfair election but also unfair economic policies such as the GST."

Organisers of the rally include the Malaysian Trade Union Congress which represents half a million workers, environmental group Himpunan Hijau and more than 90 civil society groups.

They initially wanted to hold the rally at Dataran Merdeka, or Independence Square, a symbolic location where Malaysia's flag was raised for the first time during independence in 1957. Independence Day parades are held there annually. But the square is currently off-limits to the public due to ongoing renovation works. Jalan Raja is the road in front of Dataran Merdeka.

Among the 15,000-strong crowd was opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim.

The protest has been peaceful and carnival-like so far, with participants chanting "Down with GST" and "Long live the people".

Protesters demand that the government reverse its decision to implement a GST of 6 per cent from April 1 next year, with the reason being Malaysians do not earn enough to bear the new tax.

Prime Minister Najib Razak defended the government's decision on Thursday, saying the GST system will secure Malaysia's future with more robust yields.

"If we think rationally...we understand that every government policy is for the people's benefit.

"Don't expect results in one or two days, you sow the seeds today, you expect the fruit tommorow," he said when officiating the Civil Service Labour Day celebration 2014 at Wawasan Hall in Kedah.

yyennie@sph.com.sg