On Wednesday, Malaysian police arrested more members of a group planning a rally for election reforms in Kuala Lumpur.
The NGO Bersih 2.0 has been planning a protest on July 9th to express discontent with the current state of the Malaysian electoral process. The demonstration was expected to draw large crowds, even though the group has been warned by the police that it is illegal and could spark riots.
The activists who were arrested were distributing t-shirts emblazoned with Bersih 2.0’s name. According to a coordinator for the human rights group Suaram the police have arrested over 150 people in connection with the upcoming rally.
Report & Analysis: Malaysian police detain more activists [AFP, 7 Jul 2011]
On Tuesday, King Tuanku Mizan Zainal Abidin met with three leaders of the group, considered by the Malaysian government to be an illegal organisation, and the parties came to an agreement on the protest. While Bersih originally envisioned the event as a street protest, following discussions they agreed to hold the rally in a stadium, such as Shah Alam, which is slightly outside of Kuala Lumpur
Report & Analysis: Bersih 2.0: Malaysia’s king steps forth [Today Online, 7 Jul 2011]
The group’s first application, to use the Merdeka stadium that was the site of Malayisa’s independence declaration more than 50 years ago, was rejected. The group claimed it wanted to use the site because it was easily accessible by public transportation and could accommodate around 50,000 people. The stadium management claimed the application was rejected because of “an internal management sports event and renovations being done.”
Bersih 2.0 called on Prime Minister Najib Razak to help them secure a venue, but he has declined so far, preferring to leave the decision to the police forces.
Information minister Rais Yatim has insisted that the event will not be allowed to occur in any stadium within Kuala Lumpur, as the group, Bersih 2.0, remains an illegal organisation.
Home Minister Hishammuddin Hussein also said that despite the meeting with the king, police would continue to arrest group members, as they are still part of a banned organisation.
Report & Analysis: Merkada stadium rejects application for Bersih rally [Today Online, 7 Jul 2011]
Malaysian national elections are mandated by 2013, but are widely expected to be held sooner. The activists want to see a number of electoral changes to prevent voter fraud, such as the use of indelible ink on voting ballots. Their supporters are largely opposition party members, who claim they are victims of vote-rigging schemes.
The last time Bersih held a large rally, in November 2007, approximately 50,000 people attended. Street protests are illegal in Malaysia, and rallies must be granted permits in advance.