An estimated crowd of 100,000 people gathered over the weekend in the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur in support of Bersih 4, a political movement calling for the resignation of Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak, who is implicated in a corruption scandal.
Bersih, which means “clean” in the local language of Bahasa, was organized to push for electoral reforms in 2007, 2011, and 2012. But this year, Bersih 4 is also calling for the removal of Najib, who is accused of receiving ill-gotten funds from 1 Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), a state-managed investment firm. Najib admitted that he received 2.6 billion ringgit (675 million US dollars), but he said this was an election donation from a friendly Middle Eastern country for his political party.
This year’s Bersih lasted for almost two days (34 hours to be exact) and its ending coincided with the national celebration of Merdeka, Malaysia’s independence day. During the first day of Bersih, police said the crowd was 25,000 in Kuala Lumpur and about 5,000 in other parts of the country. On the second day, the number of protesters in the capital went up to 35,000 in the afternoon, but it swelled to almost 100,000 during the final hours of the program, according to some media reports. Official estimates were not yet provided as of writing.
Bersih 4 was also supported by solidarity gatherings in 70 cities around the world.
The number of people who joined Bersih 4 is impressive considering that the rally is deemed illegal by the government. A recent order was even promulgated that criminalized the wearing of yellow Bersih 4 t-shirts.
Najib downplayed the Bersih protest and claimed that majority of Malaysians still support him. To counter Bersih, his followers vow to mobilize a million “red shirts” on October 10.
This video provides an aerial view of the rally in downtown Kuala Lumpur:
This video shows the Bersih 4 crowd during the final hours of the program:
One of those who joined Bersih was former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, who ruled Malaysia for 22 years. Many were surprised to see Mahathir since he was against the holding of rallies during his term, but some organizers welcomed the presence of the country’s longest-serving prime minister. Mahathir said he supports the call for the resignation of Najib.
Below are some of the photos of #Bersih4 shared on Twitter:
#Bersih4 Live: An aerial view of the crowd at midnight. Happy Merdeka! http://t.co/aatMssFuMQ pic.twitter.com/HtbVzFkhLv
— malaysiakini.com (@malaysiakini) August 30, 2015
#Bersih4: Sea of yellow in downtown KL as night falls on the second night of the rally http://t.co/00YJrkMjWn pic.twitter.com/upZJHrhkGa
— Malay Mail Online (@themmailonline) August 30, 2015
For those brave enough to fight, I salute you. #Bersih4 pic.twitter.com/zeqGWayrAu
— ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ✝ (@_jamesjemz_) August 29, 2015
The PM is not a popular figure at #Bersih4 pic.twitter.com/lfbLami7vI
— Eric Paulsen (@EricPaulsen101) August 30, 2015
This is historical,I've never seen something like these.Rakyat are the true heroes!! Turun & sokong!! #Bersih4 pic.twitter.com/xrCKqXtMFA
— Adrian Ng (@AdrianNCF) August 30, 2015
‘Yearning for change’
There were various reactions to Bersih 4. Wong Chin Huat was one of the Bersih participants who slept in the streets during the weekend:
I slept on the pavement on Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman last night. It was like a refugee camp with many people – mostly in the illegal yellow Bersih 4 T-shirts – sleeping on not only the pavements, but also the middle of the road. Some brought sleeping bags, some used newspapers as their mat, others just slept on the road.
Why did they sacrifice their comfort in bed? Many of them, like me, have booked hotel rooms for refreshing themselves, but chose to sleep on the streets just to show our yearning for change.
Writing on news site Malaysia Kini, Dharm Navaratnam denounced Najib for calling Bersih participants unpatriotic:
To see so many Malaysians standing up for what they believe in can only be described as uplifting. To read today’s news that the PM accuses those of us who were at the rally of not loving the country is absolutely absurd. It is BECAUSE we love the country that we took part in the rally.
But Visithra Manikam wrote that more people could have joined Bersih if it was not scheduled a day before Merdeka:
I applaud those who went down to Bersih 4. It was quite a sight. I was most happy some of you carried the flag with you. Most of you were getting involved with something involving the nation for the first time ever. I applaud those who slept in the streets last night. That was indeed historical. But alas, the timing was ill-planned.
Neil Khor urged Bersih supporters to give more attention to the everyday issues of the poor, especially those who are living in rural areas:
…by failing to breach the rural divide – by being unable to mobilise even the semi-rural folks to participate – Bersih’s concerns, which have always been ideological rather than bread and butter issues – failed to connect with the masses.
This editorial by the Ant Daily news website describes the political impact of Bersih 4:
Within 34 hours, Bersih 4 has evolved from an event organised by a group of concerned Malaysians trying to bring a change to their country, into something totally different entirely.
It is an opportunity for normal Malaysians – the rakyat – to finally have the courage to express themselves, regardless of the consequences.
To many, Bersih 4 is something that gave them the courage to dream. To know that a fair and just Malaysia can truly exist. Where there is harmony and peace, understanding and compassion, a country where the rakyat does not need to fear nor bow to those who misuse power for their own gain.