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Sunday, April 29, 2012

Despite BN's all-out resistance, pressure builds for Malaysia reforms


Despite BN's all-out resistance, pressure builds for Malaysia reforms
A MASSIVE street rally demanding electoral reforms in Malaysia raised questions yesterday about when the long-ruling coalition government will call elections in the face of such a strong show of force by the opposition.
Police used teargas and chemical-laced water against about 50,000 people and arrested more than 450 at the demonstration. All those arrested were later released.
The rally was held to pressure Prime Minister Najib Razak's ruling coalition - which has been in power for 55 years - to overhaul what the opposition and civil groups call biased electoral policies before polls that had been widely expected to be held as early as June.
GE-13 in September?
Some analysts said the rally, the second in 10 months, undermines Mr Najib's efforts to bolster public support for his coalition and may prompt him to delay any plans to call early elections. Polls do not need to be held until mid-next year, but speculation had previously been rife that Mr Najib may dissolve parliament next month and seek a new mandate in June.
However, the protests could rattle Mr Najib's confidence, especially since the last election delivered the biggest opposition gains yet - even though the ruling National Front retained power.
"The rally is a way for many Malaysians to show that they are no longer suppressed. It has whipped up anti-government sentiment and this could encourage Najib to call for later elections," said Ong Kee Beng of the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore.
The country's largest English newspaper, The Star, said in an opinion piece that the more likely time for polls would be in the first week of September.
25,000 crowd size?
National police spokesman Ramli Yoosuf said that 471 people were arrested but all have been released. It was not immediately clear whether they would be charged with any offence. Mr Ramli said the crowd size, earlier estimated at 25,000, doubled to near 50,000 at its peak.
Demonstrators wearing yellow T-shirts, waving banners and chanting slogans poured into downtown Kuala Lumpur, massing near a public square that police had sealed off with barbed wire and barricades.
Mr Najib's popularity dipped after a similar rally last July by about 20,000 people who were dispersed by teargas. He has since instituted a raft of reforms intended to build support - including overhauling decades-old security laws - and agreed to new electoral regulations.
But activists allege voter registration lists are tainted with fraudulent names.
AP

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