Defying prior police warnings that their opposition gathering was illegal, some 60,000 people converged on a field next to a shopping mall on the outskirts of the capital Kuala Lumpur. The May 25 demonstration marked the climax of a series of rallies across Malaysia to protest alleged irregularities and fraud at recently held general elections.
As the field’s floodlights were extinguished, rally-goers held up their illuminated cell phones and lighters, transforming the field into a glowing mass. It was a symbolic statement that three weeks after a much-anticipated general election the widespread shock and outrage over the outcome has yet to dissipate, especially in urban areas.
In the run-up to Saturday’s event, nine post-election rallies dubbed “People’s Voice, Sacred Voice” were held in a string of major cities across the peninsula. Turnout at the events ranged from 30,000 to over 100,000 protestors. A leitmotif among speakers and participants was that the opposition Pakatan Rakyat (PR) had been denied victory in an electoral system stacked in favor of the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition.
Despite securing 50.8% of the popular vote, PR was unable to dislodge the BN, spearheaded by the dominant United Malays Nasional Organization (UMNO) which has governed the country consecutively since independence was achieved in 1959. The BN managed only 47.3% of valid votes, with that figure dipping lower in the more-developed peninsula.