KUALA LUMPUR, Mar 28 – Hundreds protested today against Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Abdul Razak’s plan to push through a controversial proposal to redraw electoral boundaries just months ahead of the 14th general election.
The opposition and critics say Najib is trying to bulldoze through parliament changes to electoral boundaries they say would benefit his ruling coalition, facing arguably its toughest polls since independence nearly 61 years ago.
The government says the plan was drawn up by the Election Commision (EC), and not the government, and is free from political interference. Opponents of the redrawing process say it shoves opposition-inclined voters into opposition-held seats to create super-constituencies and also reshapes constituencies to have more distinct ethnic majorities.
Protesters, rallying under the Bersih banner, gathered at the Tugu Negara close to Parliament wearing yellow t-shirts and carrying banners and placards. Opposition leaders also joined the protests.
Security was heightened at Parliament’s main gate, which was blocked by riot police, some armed with teargas guns. Bersih aims to hand over a memorandum outlining their reasons why Najib should scrap the government’s motion seeking approval for its redelineation exercise.
“We totally do not agree with the (EC) report. This is the biggest cheating to ever happen,” said former Bersih chairman Maria Chin Abdullah. “They want to bulldoze the report that contradicts the constitution, ignores the rule of law and manipulates the electoral rolls,” she said.
Najib is expected to table the redelineation motion at 11.30am. It is widely expected to be passed today. This is the final session of parliament before the legislative body is dissolved for elections.
Electoral boundaries were last changed in 2003, under the leadership of then-premier Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad. He, too, was accused of manipulating the process in favour of the ruling coalition, Barisan Nasional (BN).
Mahathir, 92, who led the country for 22 years, is now running as the opposition’s candidate for prime minister against Najib, his former protege. Najib is under pressure to deliver an emphatic victory for BN, as he grapples with a scandal at state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), and public anxiety over rising living costs.
Earlier this week, the government tabled a bill seeking to outlaw “fake news”, which prescribes fines and up to 10 years in jail, raising more concern about media freedom in the wake of the 1MDB scandal. The anti-fake news bill is expected to be debated and passed on Thursday. — Reuters