The streets of Kuala Lumpur could get very crowded with protesters this coming weekend. A pro-Umno group dubbed the Red Shirts has threatened to hold a rival rally if pro-reform group Bersih and Malaysia's opposition parties were to go ahead with their planned street protest to demand Prime Minister Najib Razak's resignation.
An Umno division leader, Datuk Jamal Yunos, head of the Red Shirts that held a provocative protest last September, yesterday issued a challenge for Bersih and the opposition to bring their protest to the streets on Saturday.
This, he said, would allow him to "turn the city red", referring to the T-shirts worn by his group.
"We await the time and date they will hold the gathering and we shall hold one too at the same time," Mr Jamal said. "We welcome these people to hold Bersih 5."
The yellow-shirted Bersih group and the opposition parties have said they are mulling over a July 30 street rally to ask Mr Najib to step down. This follows the civil suit filed by the United States Department of Justice to seize US$1 billion (S$1.35 billion) worth of assets it said were procured by money stolen from 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), a state fund overseen by Mr Najib.
Bersih 5, the date of which is still being discussed - will follow four previous peaceful demonstrations. The event could include former premier Mahathir Mohamad, a fierce critic of Mr Najib.
Bersih - made up of 94 civil society bodies - last held a rally in August, drawing what it claimed to be a crowd of 100,000 Malaysians, mostly from the Chinese community, who demanded Mr Najib's removal. Reports say the actual turnout was in the tens of thousands.
Dr Mahathir appeared at the Bersih 4 rally to show his support for calls to oust Mr Najib.
Two weeks after that, Mr Jamal held a counter rally in Kuala Lumpur which, he claimed, attracted 20,000 people, mostly Malays.
The Red Shirt rally drew attention when some of the protesters moved to the Chinese business enclave of Jalan Petaling - KL's Chinatown - and clashed with anti-riot police who stopped them from entering the area.
The Red Shirts had chanted slogans in support of Mr Najib, who was then already under pressure from critics seeking his removal following allegations of the mismanagement of 1MDB.
Yesterday, Mr Jamal - one of Umno's 191 powerful division heads - said the next rally by the Red Shirts, if it were to happen, would draw a much larger crowd than Bersih's. "If this happens we will come again, hold a second version of the red gathering and we expect to see 300,000 people," he told reporters.
He branded Mr Najib's critics as "traitors" and proponents of "vile politics", adding: "Datuk Seri Najib as Prime Minister was chosen democratically and should be defended by the people of Malaysia."