Mass display: protesters at Wednesday's rally refusing to accept the election results.

Mass display: protesters at Wednesday's rally refusing to accept the election results. Photo: Reuters


KUALA LUMPUR: More than 50,000 black-clad supporters of Malaysia's opposition defied a police threat they would be arrested to attend a rally to protest against the outcome of the country's fraud-marred elections.

 

The crowd roared with approval when opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim told them he would expose the cheating that he said cost them an election win.

 

"This is merely the beginning of the battle between the people and an illegitimate, corrupt and arrogant government," Mr Anwar said in a firery speech.

 

Opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim says he will expose fraud in the election process.

Opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim says he will expose fraud in the election process. Photo: Reuters


"We will continue this struggle and we will never surrender," he said.

 

After declaring Wednesday night's rally at a sports stadium on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur was illegal, police stayed away from the event as tensions ran high over the arrest threat.

 

Earlier the government accused Mr Anwar of "fomenting division" and planning to cause unrest at the rally.

 

There was no violence. In drizzling rain the crowd blew horns and shouted "reformasi" (reform) as dozens of opposition leaders made speeches attacking the government that has ruled the country since independence from Britain in 1957.

Canon Lim, a 33 year-old trader, took a five-hour bus ride from the northern island of Penang to attend the rally.

 

"I belong to no political party. This is about justice and the future of our country," he said.

 

The three-party opposition alliance is planning a series of rallies around the country to protest against the outcome of an election it says was stolen through vote-rigging and fraud.

 

"We will go to every nook and cranny to show we have support," Mr Anwar said.

 

The opposition attracted more than half the popular vote but won 89 seats in parliament, compared with the governmment's 133, because of an electoral system that favours Malays in rural seats.

 

The opposition claims to have identified more than 30 constituencies out of a total of 222 where cheating appears to have taken place.

 

Mr Anwar, a 65 year-old former deputy prime minister who was sacked 15 years ago, has announced another mass rally for Sunday in Penang, a stronghold of ethnic Chinese, whose suppport for the ruling Barsian Nasional coalition collapsed at the election.

 

He has also called on supporters to wear black on Saturday, the colour that has been chosen by the opposition to show its disapproval of the government.

 

Wednesday night's rally indicated that huge crowds will turn out for the protests, intensifying pressure on prime minister Najib Razak's government, which is fending off criticism over the conduct of the elections from accredited poll monitors as well as the opposition.

 

An interim report by a team of observers from the Centre for Public Policy Studies and the Asian Strategy Leadership Institute has described the polls as "partially free but not fair".

 

It found the technical conduct of the polling processes to be quite effficent and effective, but the monitors referred to pro-ruling party bias in the media, misuse of government facilities, hand-outs to the electorate and the "problematic integrity of the electoral roll".

 

A government spokesman hit back at the report, accusing the observers of "straying outside of their original mandate".

The spokesman admitted there were problems with indelible ink that easily washed offf.

 

"We strongly reject the accusation that Barisan Nasional stoked racial tensions, especially since the opposition encouraged the interrogation of voters who did not look Malaysian enough," he said.

 

The spokesman said it was also "misleading to discuss the media in Malaysia without the internet".

 

"For example, the website Malaysiakini, which is heavily and consistently critical of the government, was visited by 4.3 million people on election night," he said.

 

"The two biggest English-language newspapers, by comparison, have a combined circulation of 500,000," he said.