Najib questions timing of Bersih rally, says too close to independence day

Malaysia's Prime Minister Najib Razak during a press conference at his office in Putrajaya.
Malaysia's Prime Minister Najib Razak during a press conference at his office in Putrajaya.PHOTO: AFP

KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak on Friday questioned the timing of a massive rally this weekend, saying it is too close to the country's independence day.

In an audio recording on his blog, Najib said that Merdeka Day is a time for Malaysians to set aside their differences and celebrate the country's independence with love and patriotism, the Malaysian Insider reported.

Without mentioning Bersih, he said a rally has been planned for this weekend, the same time and place preparations are being done for Merdeka Day on Aug 31.

"Is it right for the rally to go on at a time and place so close to our Merdeka Day? Think about it," the news portal quoted Najib as saying,

He said many had worked hard for this year's celebrations, from the national heroes that had fought for the country's independence to the schools participating in the parades.

"Even if you want to rally, choose a time and location that is not provocative. No matter our differences in opinion or understanding, Merdeka Day should not be a platform for political clashes," he was quoted as saying.

Organisers say the Bersih 4 rally, which has been declared illegal by the police, will take place this weekend in Kuala Lumpur, Kuching and Kota Kinabalu as well as major cities around the world.

The rally is to protest against what Bersih calls the Prime Minister's attempt to muzzle criticism about his administration and to stifle investigations into claims that he had received state funds in his personal accounts.

Bersih chairman Maria Chin Abdullah said the rally would be akin to a vote of no-confidence against Najib, who is facing allegations that US$700 million (S$981 million) was banked into his personal accounts from state funds.

On Thursday, Langkawi Umno member Anina Saaduddin filed a suit against Naib as party president to account for the chronology of events involving the funds.

In a sign of nervousness ahead of the rally, Malaysia's Internet regulator moved to block sites promoting the event. The Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) said the decision was made in the interests of "national stability" .

"MCMC would like to remind the people to be careful in sharing any information in social media or websites, especially information that can contravene Malaysia's laws," it said on its Facebook page.

The Bersih chief described the decision as shocking and against constitutional rights.

"We are going to sue them if they do not withdraw... It is really against the rakyat's (people's) right to information. They have no right to block it."

Bersih has spearheaded three mass street rallies since it was formed in 2006 to push for electoral reforms.