The group of lawyers, activists and NGOs named Bersih 2.0 said today that they will go ahead with their planned sit-in despite the authorities’ asking them to hold the rally at another place.
Last July, Bersih (meaning clean in Malay language), had brought together tens of thousands of protesters demanding electoral reforms, prompting police to fire tear gas and water cannons to break up the group and arresting 1,600 people.
This time, the organisers of the rally are confident of assembling at least double the size of last year’s crowd at Dataran Merdeka or Independence square right in the heart of downtown Kuala Lumpur on Saturday.
Authorities have asked the group to meet at any one of the four other stadia offered as alternative venues to
Bersih 2.0 has rejected the offer, saying it was too late to change location.
“We will do whatever necessary to carry out our duties. We are guardians of Dataran Merdeka even though it is public property,” city mayor Ahmad Fuad Ismail said.
Bersih’s demands include having the voter roll cleaned thoroughly of irregularities and having the Election Commission resign over allegations of bias towards the ruling coalition.
Prime minister Najib Razak has in recent months set up a bi-partisan parliamentary panel which suggested several changes to the poll system but Bersih says it is not completely satisfied.
Although general elections are due next year, Najib may call them earlier.
“We will carry on with Merdeka Square simply because of its accessibility to public transport, and it’s easier to move around there,” Maria Chin Abdullah, one of the group’s leaders, told The Straits Times yesterday.
In Singapore, police have rejected an application submitted two weeks ago by Malaysians to hold a peaceful sit-in at the Speakers’ Corner in Hong Lim Park on Saturday.
Foreigners who wish to use the venue for political causes have to seek a permit from the police.
The first Bersih rally in November 2007, which drew thousands of protesters to the Kuala Lumpur city centre was seen as a factor in the unprecedented loss suffered by the ruling coalition Barisan Nasional in elections called a few months later.