Bersih to proceed with rally despite officials' no-go

No impact on KL's Merdeka Day preparations, it says

People at the Bersih 3.0 rally in Kuala Lumpur on April 28, 2012.
People at the Bersih 3.0 rally in Kuala Lumpur on April 28, 2012.PHOTO: ST FILE

Electoral reform group Bersih said it would go ahead with its overnight gathering in Merdeka Square on Aug 29 and 30 even after Kuala Lumpur city officials refused permission, saying the rally would interfere with preparations for national day -or Merdeka Day - celebrations on Aug 31. 

Bersih chairman Maria Chin Abdullah yesterday said: "We will not interfere with the Merdeka preparations as (the rally) will be within the vicinity of Dataran Merdeka. We'll stop before midnight so we can allow Merdeka celebrations to go on." She was speaking after meeting city hall officials. Dataran Merdeka refers to the square where the Malaysian flag was hoisted for the first time after British rule ended in 1957.

In recent weeks, Bersih has urged Prime Minister Najib Razak to step down amid a political funding controversy. Between 2007 and 2012, the opposition-backed coalition of NGOs thrice led massive street protests in the capital.

Ms Abdullah claimed that Kuala Lumpur City Hall (DBKL) had told Bersih no activities were planned at the square on Aug 29 and 30, but after the group fixed its dates, "they... decided to have activities".

Mayor Amin Noordin confirmed the agreement to confine the rally to the sidewalks. But he warned "DBKL and police will take action" should there be a repeat of the 2012 Bersih-led rally when protesters tried to enter Merdeka Square. "As long as they behave... we can accept it. But if they disturb, then DBKL and police will act."

Bersih called for a new rally late last month after accusing Datuk Seri Najib of blocking "all possibilities for truth" regarding debt-laden 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), whose advisory board he chairs. Mr Najib had removed the attorney-general and co-opted four members of the bipartisan parliamentary Public Accounts Committee into his administration, which effectively halted two parallel investigations into the state investment company.

The Prime Minister also ejected several critics from his Cabinet, including deputy premier Muhyiddin Yassin, who has repeatedly questioned the propriety of US$700 million (S$985 million) deposited in Mr Najib's private accounts over the past two years.

The government said the deposits were political donations and funding for community projects that have largely come from unnamed sources in the Middle East.

Mr Najib last Friday announced the setting up of a committee to look into political funding reforms. It is to be led by Integrity Minister Paul Low, who said yesterday that "all relevant stakeholders" will be invited, and the panel formalised within a fortnight.

But Malaysia's Bar Council and some opposition lawmakers have dismissed the move and called for the focus to be on investigations into the funds received by Mr Najib.

And Parti Keadilan Rakyat secretary-general Rafizi Ramli has mooted a boycott unless Cabinet members declare their assets first.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 19, 2015, with the headline 'Bersih to proceed with rally despite officials' no-go'. Print Edition | Subscribe