Tens of thousands Malaysians have come out to protest in the country’s capital against the government calling for reforms and possible ouster of the ruling coalition. The rally comes before Malaysia’s general elections, which are due by mid-2013.
According to local police, 80,000 people marched through Kuala Lumpur to the legendary Stadium Merdeka, where the current governing alliance declared independence from Britain in 1957, reported The Malaysian Insider.
Opposition estimates that the turnout was even higher, at about 100,000, according to Malaysia Kini.
Protesters’ demands included better electoral and environmental laws, improved education system, abolition of student loans and fair royalty payments to oil-producing states.
The opposition argues that the country’s electoral register is fraudulent and has pro-government bias.
During the rally people wore various bright colors including yellow and green, each representing an activist group.
The rally resembled a festival with food sellers and other vendors coming out to the streets. People carried flags and signs and some even wore Guy Fawkes masks, as popularized by the 2005 film V for Vendetta.
Opposition leader Lim Guan Eng spoke at the protest urging for change from the country’s Prime Minister Najib Razak's and his Barisan Nasional coalition, which has held power for the past 55 years.
The ruling coalition has been in control of Malaysia since independence from Britain.
“Our government is so corrupt. The government should listen to us. They need to reform. For more than 50 years they have ruled Malaysia,” rally participant Azlan Abu Bakar told News24.
Malaysia’s national poet A. Samad Said read out some of his work to a cheering crowd.
“Even poems have become weapons,” he said. “I am already 80, I have always dreamed of witnessing a sea of souls. This is it, change now.”
Access to the stadium was granted by local authorities and the rally was peaceful, police reported.
This stands in stark contrast to the previous demonstration held in April 2012 when at least 1,000 people were injured and hundreds detained after police Malaysian police fired teargas and chemical-laced water at 25,000 protesters gathered calling for electoral reforms.
The ruling government’s term is due to expire in April with elections to be held by mid-2013.
PM Razak's bloc faces a new opposition force comprised of Anwar Ibrahim’s multi-ethnic party, the Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party and Malaysian Chinese Association, party dominated by ethnic Chinese.
The ruling block has also been experiencing waning support. It lost more than a third of its seats in parliament to the opposition in 2008, as the charges of corruption grew.