Clash looms over Malaysian opposition rally
Malaysia's opposition appeared headed for a clash with authorities Wednesday, saying it would defy a police threat to stop a protest rally by its leader Anwar Ibrahim over disputed election results.
Malaysia's police chief has said the opposition did not follow proper procedures for staging the Wednesday night rally and that participants would be arrested.
Tian Chua, vice president of Anwar's People's Justice Party, acknowledged the opposition was not within the letter of the law over the gathering in a stadium outside the capital Kuala Lumpur, but insisted it would go ahead.
"We have picked a stadium to allow our supporters to gather so that Anwar can explain the irregularities in the election and how he plans to move forward," Tian said, adding that the assembly posed no security threat.
"Despite the police ban, the gathering will proceed. Anwar will be there."
Anwar has called for a "fierce" campaign for electoral reform and said the opposition would soon produce evidence backing its claims that Sunday's elections were rife with fraud by Prime Minister Najib Razak's government.
Najib, who was sworn in Monday after his Barisan Nasional (National Front) coalition retained its 56-year hold on power, has insisted the polls were totally free and fair.
But a joint report released Wednesday by two independent election watchdogs disputed that claim, saying the elections were marred by bias and irregularities that added up to "serious flaws" in the electoral system.
The report by the Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs (IDEAS) and the Centre for Public Policy Studies (CPPS) cited continued questions over the integrity of the electoral roll.
It also said issues including partisan use of government machinery, pro-government media bias, and indelible ink -- meant to mark voters to prevent multiple-voting -- that washed off easily left a blot on the election.
The election was "only partially free and not fair," it said.
The vote was touted as the first in the country's history in which the opposition had a chance to unseat the ruling coalition, which has held a tight grip on power since independence in 1957.
Barisan retained a firm majority in parliament despite winning less than half of the popular vote, a factor blamed on self-serving gerrymandering and redistricting by Barisan over the years.
National police chief Ismail Omar said Wednesday night's rally was considered illegal because organisers did not properly notify police under a new assembly law passed in 2011, state news agency Bernama said.
He added that participants would be arrested, Bernama said.
The rally was set for around 8 p.m. (1200 GMT).
The assembly act cited by Ismail eliminated some restrictions on public gatherings but has been widely criticised by rights groups as effectively outlawing street marches.
The law was passed a few months after a street march by tens of thousands of people criticising the electoral system as rigged in favour of the government.
Most gatherings are allowed under the law, however, if organisers give 10 days notice to local police. Ismail said no such permission was sought.
Anwar, who has battled the government ever since he was ousted from its top ranks in 1998 and jailed for six years on disputed sex charges, has said the election was stolen via "unprecedented electoral fraud".
Voters across the country complained over the ease with which the indelible ink was removed from their hands, while videos, pictures and first-hand accounts of purportedly foreign "voters" being confronted by angry citizens also went viral.
Anwar had earlier alleged a ruling-coalition scheme to fly tens of thousands of "dubious" and possibly foreign voters to flood key constituencies.
Both the United States and European Union congratulated Najib on his win, but expressed concern over "irregularities" and urged him to address them.
Analysts said Najib likely would not crack down on the rally due to widespread bitterness over the election result and his own post-polls promise to seek national "reconciliation".
"I think it is not in the interest of Najib to come down hard on the protesters. People are already aggrieved," said James Gomez, a politics lecturer at Northern University of Malaysia.