KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 16 — Thousands of demonstrators marched through Malaysia’s capital today to declare support for the embattled government and assert the political dominance of the Malay majority, in a demonstration whose racial overtones sparked concern.
The demonstration was organised by figures in the ruling United Malays National Organisation (Umno) in response to massive street rallies last month that called for Prime Minister Datuk SeriNajib Razak’s resignation over a financial scandal.
Malay demonstrators paralysed normally bustling areas of Kuala Lumpur as they marched through chanting slogans targeting multi-ethnic Malaysia’s Chinese minority.
“Our Malay way of life is under threat. We want to support Malays, Najib, and tell the Chinese to keep their place,” said Faisal Nur, 23, a demonstrator from Malaysia’s rural north.
The demonstration — and a planned rally later in the day — marks one of the largest public displays of what many Malaysian moderates warn is a trend toward racial and religious intolerance by hardline Malays.
Umno has controlled Malaysia for 58 years, reserving economic and other advantages for Muslim Malays, saying they were needed to prevent their dominance by the sizeable ethnic Chinese and Indian minorities.
But disgust over alleged Umno repression and electoral chicanery as well as frequent corruption scandals have contributed to a string of election setbacks.
In response, party hardliners have increasingly resorted to racial rhetoric portraying the commercially dominant Chinese as a threat to the Malay privileges.
Many Kuala Lumpur businesses run by Chinese — who make up about a quarter of Malaysia’s population — were shuttered for the day out of fear of disturbances.
A heavy security presence including hundreds of police deployed throughout the capital diverted the march from predominantly Chinese areas, and no incidents were reported.
The vast majority of demonstrators were young ethnic Malay men wearing Umno’s red colours, many blowing loudly on plastic vuvuzelas.
Large numbers were bussed in by organisers from the countryside, where ruling-party support is strongest.
The rally has been criticised as racially provocative by leading figures in both Umno and the opposition. Deadly sectarian riots in 1969 are still regularly cited as underlining the need to maintain racial harmony.
Malaysia’s leading polling firm, the Merdeka Center for Opinion Research, published a survey Tuesday which said only 24 per cent of respondents supported the rally.
Najib, who was already under fire over huge sums of money missing from a state firm he launched, has been deeply tarnished by the revelation in July that Malaysian investigators had discovered nearly US$700 million (RM2.6 billion) in deposits into his personal bank accounts.
His government has called them “political donations” from Middle Eastern sources but has refused to give details.
Najib subsequently sacked his attorney general and made other personnel moves that critics say have hampered criminal investigations into funds.
Organisers of the huge two-day demonstrations last month to demand Najib’s ouster said more than 200,000 people attended.
Malay organisers said they hoped to attract 80,000 to today’s rally. — AFP