Tens of thousands transformed the main roads of Kuala Lumpur yesterday into seas of yellow as they flocked to Bersih's overnight rally despite government warnings that the event and the wearing of yellow apparel - synonymous with the electoral reform group - was illegal.
Although the start time was 2pm, thousands of people started gathering in the morning around five points close to the historic Merdeka Square where, 58 years ago, the Jalur Gemilang was raised on Aug 31 to mark Independence Day.
By the time all five groups had marched towards the vicinity of the square at 5pm, Bersih had claimed an attendance of 200,000, eight times the official police estimate.
As the authorities had barred protesters from using Merdeka Square - which will tonight host a countdown to Independence Day, at the same time as Bersih winds down its 34-hour protest - they flooded the streets surrounding it.
At 6pm, the crowds stretched for hundreds of metres along roads leading to the square. Protesters held up placards questioning Prime Minister Najib Razak over a controversial US$700 million (S$986 million) "political donation" deposited in his private accounts.
We are not here to topple the government but to topple a corrupt political system.
BERSIH CHAIRMAN MARIA CHIN ABDULLAH, to supporters, using a loudhailer from the back of a pickup truck
"We are not here to topple the government but to topple a corrupt political system," Bersih chairman Maria Chin Abdullah told supporters, using a loudhailer, from the back of a pickup truck. But several politicians who were present were leading chants calling for the embattled Premier to resign.
Datuk Seri Najib was not in Kuala Lumpur yesterday, but was addressing a division of his Umno party in his home state of Pahang, where he derided the protesters as being "shallow and poor in their patriotism" for interfering with national- level Independence Day events.
But unlike previous Bersih rallies, the crowds were not dispersed by police using tear gas or water cannons, although water cannon trucks were seen at several locations around the Malaysian capital.
It remains to be seen if the authorities will allow protesters to sleep in the streets as planned or to continue with their rally up till the Independence Day countdown.
Yesterday, as the crowds were dispersing for prayers and dinner at about 7pm, influential former premier Mahathir Mohamad - who has led calls for Mr Najib's resignation this year - arrived at Merdeka Square in a car, with his wife Siti Hasmah Mohamad Ali. "I just came to take a look," he said, before leaving a few minutes later.
At an earlier event in Johor state, he had said he did not support Bersih, which also demands wide-ranging reform to public institutions, but that a show of "people's power" was necessary because Mr Najib had blocked other legal avenues to challenge his leadership.
Mr Najib on July 28 removed critics from his Cabinet and broke up Parliament's Public Accounts Committee (PAC) that was probing alleged financial irregularities at troubled state investor 1Malaysia Development Berhad, linked to the funds he received, by appointing some PAC members to the Cabinet. He also removed the Attorney-General, who was conducting a separate probe into 1MDB. Bersih announced its rally the very next day.
By late last night, the crowds had dwindled to about 20,000.
Bersih supporters had also gathered in Kuching and Kota Kinabalu in East Malaysia yesterday.