Malaysia opposition to defy ban on election rally
A young Malaysian opposition supporter displays the PAS party logo on his face as supporters gather at a stadium in Kelana Jaya, Selangor on May 8, 2013 ahead of a rally. Malaysia's opposition vowed Wednesday to go ahead with a protest rally against weekend elections that it says were tainted by massive fraud, despite police declaring the gathering illegal.
Police said Anwar Ibrahim's opposition alliance did not provide authorities the required 10 days' notice for the rally Wednesday night in a stadium outside the capital Kuala Lumpur.
However, with tensions still high over the country's closest-ever election result, police backtracked on an earlier threat to arrest participants, saying instead they may take follow-up action afterwards.
"Despite the police ban, the gathering will proceed. Anwar will be there," said Tian Chua, vice president of Anwar's People's Justice Party.
Anwar has called for a "fierce" campaign for electoral reform after losing Sunday's vote, and said he would soon produce evidence that the ballot was rife with cheating by Prime Minister Najib Razak's government.
Previous election reform protests have ended in wild scenes with police using tear gas and water cannons, and Najib's office accused the opposition of fomenting unrest with the planned rally in a 25,000-seat football stadium.
In a statement, it said Anwar has "deliberately chosen a small stadium to ensure it will spill onto the streets. His protest is calculated to create unrest."
Najib, who was sworn in Monday after his Barisan Nasional (National Front) coalition retained its 56-year hold on power, has insisted the polls were completely free and fair.
But a report released Wednesday by two independent election watchdogs said they were marred by pro-government bias and irregularities that indicate "serious flaws" in the electoral system.
The Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs (IDEAS) and Centre for Public Policy Studies (CPPS) cited concerns including partisan use of government machinery, pro-government media bias, and doubts over the integrity of voter rolls.
The election was "only partially free and not fair," it said.
The vote was touted as the first in which the opposition had a chance to unseat the ruling coalition, which has held a tight grip on power since independence in 1957.
Barisan retained a firm parliamentary majority despite winning less than half the popular vote, a factor blamed on gerrymandering and Barisan tinkering with electoral districts.
Anwar's party acknowledged it did not give proper notice for the rally, but said gatherings have been allowed previously on short notice within "the spirit of the law," and that the stadium was private.
The country's national police chief had warned late Tuesday that participants would be arrested. But police said Wednesday they would not confront rally-goers, The Star newspaper reported on its website.
"We will gather evidence and review whether action can be taken against the organisers or participants," said Hisan Hamzah, Selangor state police chief.
Anwar, who has battled Barisan ever since he was ousted from its top ranks in 1998 and jailed for six years on sex and corruption charges seen as trumped-up, has said the election was stolen via "unprecedented electoral fraud".
Voters complained that indelible ink -- meant to thwart multiple-voting -- easily washed off their hands, and accounts of suspected foreign "voters" being confronted by angry citizens at polling centres also went viral.
Anwar had earlier alleged a government scheme to fly tens of thousands of "dubious" and possibly foreign voters to flood key constituencies.
Both the United States and European Union congratulated Najib on his win, but urged him to address reports of "irregularities."
Transparency International also issued a statement saying the vote showed that electoral reforms were "urgently required."
Analysts said authorities were wary of cracking down on the rally due to the risk of sparking wider unrest over the election result.
"I think it is not in the interest of Najib to come down hard on the protesters. People are already aggrieved," said James Gomez, a politics lecturer at Northern University of Malaysia.
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