Protesters Gather in the Streets of Malaysia over Weekend
What’s the skinny?
Beginning this past Saturday and continuing through the night until Sunday, activists took to the streets of Kuala Lumpur in a rally to demand Prime Minister Najib Razak to resign from office. At its height pro-democracy group, Bersih, estimated that 200,000 demonstrators gathered publicly; while police enforcers suggested that only 20,000 to 30,000 individuals stood in solidarity. These protest came only days before the country celebrates today’s Merdeka Day festivities, which signify Malaysia’s independence from British rule.
Give me the rundown:
- Much of the public outcry and weekend protest comes from an article published by the Wall Street Journal, suggesting the possibility that Prime Minister Najib Razak has transferred $700 million into private accounts from the 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) fund.
- The 1MDB is a 2009 economic initiative sponsored by global investors and stockholders in an effort to drive Kuala Lumpur into a role as a financial epicenter.
- According to the BBC, the $700 million sum in private bank transfers are claimed to be by “unidentified Middle Eastern sources.”
- The Malaysian government has deemed the protests illegal and has prohibited anyone from wearing the familiar Bersih yellow shirt in opposition to the unexplained monetary transfers (although enforcement of the ruling had been relatively absent over the weekend).
- Former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad is also calling on the resignation of Najib Razak and supporting citizen protesters in an effort to demand transparency by the Malay government.
What is the bottom line?
Malaysia is Southeast Asia’s third largest economy and a newly industrialized country. As a rising tiger and a participant in multiple trade organizations, the country risks government backlash over this controversy from the global marketplace and the countries it conducts business with. Malaysia is a large exporter of electronics, liquefied natural gas, petroleum products, and palm oil. Prime Minister Najib Razak will have to soon produce evidence to support claims that the alleged $700 million transferred into personal bank accounts were in fact from private Middle Eastern donors. Further, with a remarkable unemployment rate of 3.1 percent in 2014, Malaysia’s workforce holds some weight in this ordeal as well. Together, their economic impact suggests the Malay government could feasibly be swayed in the coming weeks to produce much needed answers. However, public pressure will have to remain strong from all sides in order to expedite the possibility of this occurring. As Malaysia moves forward from this past weekend’s demonstrations, it will need to provide transparency and reaffirm its accountability if the country and Prime Minister Razak want to save face with their outside investors and government partners.