Malaysia braces for critical pro-government rallies on September 16

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Red shirts Kuala Lumpur
Red t-shirts on sale in Kuala Lumpur ahead of the pro-government Malaysia Day rallies on September 16.

Preparations for pro-government rallies on “Malaysia Day” on September 16 are ongoing in a bid to show support for the beleaguered leadership of Malaysia’s Prime Minister Najib Razak, who is being implicated in a widely reported corruption scandal.

Malaysia Day is a holiday commemorating September 16, 1963, when the former British colony of Singapore and the East Malaysian states of Sabah and Sarawak joined the Federation of Malaya to create the Malaysian Federation. Singapore left the federation two years later.

The day has only been a declared national holiday since 2010 when Razak decided to turn it into one in an aim to “foster Malay spirit and pride.” Under this slogan, the day has unfortunately also been used for nationalistic rallies with racist undertones.

This year – given the current fragile state of Malaysia’s politics -, observers fear that rallies could lead to “unpleasant events” in case pro- and anti-government protesters clash with each other, which could easily happen given the angry sentiments on both sides.

With the “unofficial” support of Razak’s party, United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), more than 250 licensed non-government organisations in Malaysia are planning to mobilise at least 30,000 people on September 16 to protect and promote “Malay dignity”. Other sources even speak of 180,000 UMNO members and supporters being called in for the “Red Shirt” rally, citing a list circulating online.

The rallies are clearly being organised to counter the Bersih (which means “clean” in Malay) protest on August 29 and 30, when more than 100,000 people gathered in Kuala Lumpur to express their displeasure with the incumbent government. Some leaders of the so-called “Malay Pride Rally” have ridiculed Bersih as a “Chinese conspiracy.” To prevent “Chinese protesters from undermining the government,” they urged their fellow Malays to join the September 16 gathering and to wear red t-shirts in order to oppose the yellow colour of Bersih.

Lawmakers and activists have criticised the use of racial sentiments in these protest as it was “a distortion of the real politics of Bersih.” While it is true that Chinese protesters were present during the Bersih protest, they were joined by Malays and other citizens who believe that Razak must resign and that a clean election is needed to promote good governance in the country.

The rallies are planned at several locations in Kuala Lumpur, including Bukit Bintang, Pudu and Petaling Street and to end at Padang Merbok.

One group organising a rally at Padang Merbok has said its members will wear black and has warned off “those who are racially angry” against taking part.

“Those who are out to create trouble or promote racism are not welcome,” organisers said.

However, other organisers promote wearing red shirt by selling them ahead of the rallies on site. The t-shirts have a silhouette of a man doing the “silat” (Malay art of self defense) and printed with the words “Kebangkitan Maruah Melayu( “Resurgence of Malay Dignity) and “Tanah Tumpah Darahku” (My Native Land).

Whether or not the rally ends up drawing more crowds than Bersih, it highlights a dangerous turn for Malaysian politics where the race card is increasingly being exploited by some groups and politicians to further their divisive political agenda.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Razak on September 14 is expected to announce measures to strengthen the economy as falling commodity prices weigh on growth and the ringgit currency plumbs near 18-year lows. Last month, he set up a special economic committee to propose immediate and medium-term measures to strengthen the economy and to restore investor confidence.

This is also seen as a reaction to Fitch Ratings which said last week that Malaysia’s deteriorating currency position – reflected in the ringgit’s sharp depreciation, falling foreign exchange reserves and shrinking current account surplus – could force it restore a negative outlook on the country’s credit rating.

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Reading Time: 3 minutes

Red t-shirts on sale in Kuala Lumpur ahead of the pro-government Malaysia Day rallies on September 16.

Preparations for pro-government rallies on “Malaysia Day” on September 16 are ongoing in a bid to show support for the beleaguered leadership of Malaysia’s Prime Minister Najib Razak, who is being implicated in a widely reported corruption scandal.

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Red shirts Kuala Lumpur
Red t-shirts on sale in Kuala Lumpur ahead of the pro-government Malaysia Day rallies on September 16.

Preparations for pro-government rallies on “Malaysia Day” on September 16 are ongoing in a bid to show support for the beleaguered leadership of Malaysia’s Prime Minister Najib Razak, who is being implicated in a widely reported corruption scandal.

Malaysia Day is a holiday commemorating September 16, 1963, when the former British colony of Singapore and the East Malaysian states of Sabah and Sarawak joined the Federation of Malaya to create the Malaysian Federation. Singapore left the federation two years later.

The day has only been a declared national holiday since 2010 when Razak decided to turn it into one in an aim to “foster Malay spirit and pride.” Under this slogan, the day has unfortunately also been used for nationalistic rallies with racist undertones.

This year – given the current fragile state of Malaysia’s politics -, observers fear that rallies could lead to “unpleasant events” in case pro- and anti-government protesters clash with each other, which could easily happen given the angry sentiments on both sides.

With the “unofficial” support of Razak’s party, United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), more than 250 licensed non-government organisations in Malaysia are planning to mobilise at least 30,000 people on September 16 to protect and promote “Malay dignity”. Other sources even speak of 180,000 UMNO members and supporters being called in for the “Red Shirt” rally, citing a list circulating online.

The rallies are clearly being organised to counter the Bersih (which means “clean” in Malay) protest on August 29 and 30, when more than 100,000 people gathered in Kuala Lumpur to express their displeasure with the incumbent government. Some leaders of the so-called “Malay Pride Rally” have ridiculed Bersih as a “Chinese conspiracy.” To prevent “Chinese protesters from undermining the government,” they urged their fellow Malays to join the September 16 gathering and to wear red t-shirts in order to oppose the yellow colour of Bersih.

Lawmakers and activists have criticised the use of racial sentiments in these protest as it was “a distortion of the real politics of Bersih.” While it is true that Chinese protesters were present during the Bersih protest, they were joined by Malays and other citizens who believe that Razak must resign and that a clean election is needed to promote good governance in the country.

The rallies are planned at several locations in Kuala Lumpur, including Bukit Bintang, Pudu and Petaling Street and to end at Padang Merbok.

One group organising a rally at Padang Merbok has said its members will wear black and has warned off “those who are racially angry” against taking part.

“Those who are out to create trouble or promote racism are not welcome,” organisers said.

However, other organisers promote wearing red shirt by selling them ahead of the rallies on site. The t-shirts have a silhouette of a man doing the “silat” (Malay art of self defense) and printed with the words “Kebangkitan Maruah Melayu( “Resurgence of Malay Dignity) and “Tanah Tumpah Darahku” (My Native Land).

Whether or not the rally ends up drawing more crowds than Bersih, it highlights a dangerous turn for Malaysian politics where the race card is increasingly being exploited by some groups and politicians to further their divisive political agenda.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Razak on September 14 is expected to announce measures to strengthen the economy as falling commodity prices weigh on growth and the ringgit currency plumbs near 18-year lows. Last month, he set up a special economic committee to propose immediate and medium-term measures to strengthen the economy and to restore investor confidence.

This is also seen as a reaction to Fitch Ratings which said last week that Malaysia’s deteriorating currency position – reflected in the ringgit’s sharp depreciation, falling foreign exchange reserves and shrinking current account surplus – could force it restore a negative outlook on the country’s credit rating.

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