KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 16 — Several hundred people, dressed in white T-shirts bearing the words “fight corruption”, gathered at the Kampung Baru Jamek Mosque here this afternoon to protest what they claimed to political tampering in the corruption trial of Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi.
The gathering, organised by an umbrella group of Malay Muslims backed by the Perikatan Nasional (PN) federal Opposition coalition, falls on the 60th Malaysia Day to commemorate the country’s founding in 1963.
Cries of “reformati” — a derogatory word-play on Pakatan Harapan’s famous slogan “reformasi” meant to suggest the agenda for reform is now dead — fill the air as the demonstrators who are largely young men and whose numbers are growing, started marching towards Dang Wangi initially, before heading towards the Sogo shopping centre on Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman.
“From the beginning, all the way to the state elections, we have been trying to express our dissatisfaction with the way this government is leading and now we are surprised by the discharge of this person from all 47 charges. We do not agree to this, am I right?” Said Datuk Tun Faisal Ismail Aziz, a member of Muafakat Nasional’s supreme council.
“Before the 15th general election what did they promise? They vowed to jail Zahid, isn’t that right? Now Zahid has been freed,” the former Umno leader added.
Zahid was recently granted a discharge not amounting to acquittal (DNAA) despite prosecutors having succeeded in proving a prima facie, which compelled the Umno leader enter his defence against 47 graft charges of misappropriating RM31 million belonging to Yayasan Akalbudi, a charitable organisation he founded.
However, the DNAA means Zahid has not been cleared and can still face trial again for the same 47 charges later.
The controversial decision, granted because of the application made by the Attorney General’s Chambers, sparked allegations that Zahid was freed because Umno had supported Anwar’s bid to form a government.
Anwar has denied the allegations and maintained that the courts are independent.
Several groups under the Islamist coalition Ummah and its allied student group Gabungan Mahasiswa Islam Se-Malaysia (Gamis) and Perkasa who claimed to be organising the rally, have touted it as necessary to “Save Malaysia”.
Protesters shouted “charge Zahid” as they marched. Some cried “Allahu Akbar”.
Police personnel kept a close watch on the demonstrators but the moving assembly was peaceful. Several roads in the city centre were blocked for motorists, including Jalan Raja Abdullah and Jalan Doraisamy, to facilitate the march.
Ahead of today’s march, opposition leaders had tried to publicise the rally in a bid to mobilise support. Yet most Perikatan Nasional’s top leaders were absent, and the size of the protest paled in comparison to the one that demanded the resignation and prosecution of Datuk Seri Najib Razak over the 1 Malaysia Development Berhad scandal, led by Pakatan Harapan.
Bersatu state lawmaker from Selangor, Afif Bahardin, when addressing protesters at the rally said the Opposition will not stop until Zahid is jailed.
“Believe me. This is just the start,” he said as protesters cheered.