Thousands of peaceful but unregistered protesters have demanded action against Prime Minister Najib Razak over the mismanagement of billions of dollars in the 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) state fund.
Najib is due to call a general election by the middle of next year.
He has survived the scandal so far by consolidating power, clamping down on dissenters and restricting the media and activists, despite a challenge from his former mentor and ex-prime minister, Mahathir Mohamad (pictured).
This month the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission arrested several politicians from the opposition Parti Warisan Sabah in its investigation into the alleged misappropriation of RM1.5 billion (US$350 million) from rural development projects in Sabah since 2009. Mahathir asked why the opposition was being targeted instead of Najib.
The “anti-kleptocracy” rally was part of a campaign by the opposition Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition to convince the Malay-Muslim majority to ditch Najib.
Mahathir, Malaysia’s longest-serving prime minister, told the crowd that his former protege must be ejected from office.
“Never before have we had a prime minister who is a thief. He steals so he can have a comfortable life,” Mahathir said.
“We need to bring down kleptocracy in our country… Najib’s fate is in our hands. We can get rid of him, just by voting PH.”
Adding to lurid details of the 1MDB scandal, the rising cost of living and a broad consumption tax are affecting the quality of people’s lives.
A World Bank report this month said Malaysia was one of only two Asian economies where household debt “exceeds 70 per cent of GDP” with several economists concluding that Malaysia’s debt bubble was unsustainable.
Protester Hasmurni Tamby, 42, a single mother of five, said: “Prices of everything have gone up but not our salaries. We can’t save. So we don’t want this leader anymore.” Hasmurni had travelled from Malacca to protest.
According to the World Bank, Malaysian youth (ages 15 to 24) unemployment has risen to 12.1 per cent and is still rising, at approximately quadruple the national unemployment rate.
Earlier this year the US Department of Justice filed civil suits to recover more than US$1.7 billion alleged to have been misappropriated from 1MDB.
Najib is expected to offer sweeteners later this month in his last budget before the election and he recently announced billions in housing and cash aid for the Malay community.
Ex-prime minister Mahathir Mohamad addresses the rally. Picture credit: YouTube