Bersih 5 a test for the opposition


If there is a low turnout of Malays on Saturday, it will indicate that support for Najib Razak among rural voters is still strong, says report.

(FMT) – Saturday’s Bersih 5 rally will tell whether the opposition has managed to capture more Malay voters.

It will also indicate how strong Prime Minister Najib Razak’s position is among unhappy grassroots Umno members, according to a Bloomberg report.

The report also touched on the measures being taken to thwart Bersih 5, including Umno’s efforts to discredit the reform group.

The opposition has sought to lure Malays away amid discontent over living costs and allegations of graft surrounding Najib and 1Malaysia Development Berhad.

Former prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad and ex-deputy prime minister Muhyiddin Yassin have formed a new party – Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia – to target Umno’s support base.

Bloomberg quoted Ooi Kee Beng, deputy director of the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute in Singapore as saying: “Umno’s core is safe but every core has a fringe.

“It is over this fringe that the battle is fought. When enough Umno members who are not happy with Najib switch sides, that’s the tipping point.”

Analysts said a sizeable turnout on Saturday is needed to gain traction.

Sholto Byrnes, a senior fellow at the Institute of Strategic and International Studies Malaysia in Kuala Lumpur was quoted as saying: “If Malays do not make up a major part of those attending Bersih, it will show the opposition is failing to win over the voters it needs, is still reliant on its core of Chinese and urban liberals.

“It’s a big test for the opposition.”

The report noted that Najib has managed to shrug off the scandal, in part by increasing handouts to farmers, government workers and low-income Malaysians.

Even so, it said, efforts by Umno to discredit Bersih showed Najib was not complacent about his grip on power, especially as some parts of the economy were losing traction.

The Red Shirts, a group headed by an Umno divisional leader is bent on disrupting Bersih 5 and is organising a counter rally on Saturday.

However, Umno Secretary-General Tengku Adnan Tengku Mansor has said the party had nothing to do with the Red Shirts.

Najib has said he did not want to see any clashes between the Red Shirts and Bersih 5 supporters. The report said Najib’s office did not respond to a Bloomberg request for comment.

The report noted that at mosque pulpits, Muslim leaders had advised followers against joining anti-government protests.

It also mentioned that groups of people had been organised to scare away Bersih 5 volunteers who had been going around rural areas to inform people about the rally.

Bersih’s goal with its visits to small towns had been to try and reach Malay voters.