Malaysian march demands fair polls (The Hindu)

P. S. Suryanarayana
(Online edition of India’s National Newspaper, The Hindu)
SINGAPORE: As several thousand protesters took to the streets in Kuala Lumpur on Saturday, Malaysia witnessed the first signs of political unrest since Abdullah Ahmad Badawi succeeded long-serving Mahathir Mohamad as Prime Minister about four years ago. The security forces, deployed in large numbers to control the “illegal” protest, used tear-gas and water-canons to disperse the demonstrators, who were mobilised by the new Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections (Bersih in local parlance).

Police later said that 245 persons, who were detained during the protest rally, were set free after their “statements were recorded.”
While Bersih claimed a massive turn-out by protesters at three different locations in Kuala Lumpur, despite heavy rain and tight security, police estimated the crowd at about 4,000.
Petition submitted
Some protesters were allowed to march to the palace of the constitutional monarch to deliver a petition for fair and free elections.
The demands were based on allegations of malpractices and accusations of political bias by poll officials during the last general election.
Expecting Mr. Abdullah to call a snap poll soon, Bersih wanted the issue of electoral reforms to be addressed with a sense of urgency now.
Saturday’s rally was addressed by former Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim, who had unsuccessfully led a political revolt against Dr. Mahathir in 1998 before being imprisoned. Mr. Anwar was set free after Mr. Abdullah assumed office.
Formed by opposition parties and civil society groups, numbering 26 in all, Bersih organised the protest rally a day after the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), the main constituent of the governing “Barisan Nasional” coalition, held its annual general assembly.
Winding up the session, Mr. Abdullah said he had not yet found “inspiration” to call an early poll. Condemning the “illegal” protest, a top government leader described it as a campaign to “smear the public image” of the country. Information Minister Zainuddin Maidin said: “Malaysia is not Myanmar or Pakistan, it is a democratic country.”