Thousands of Malaysians are protesting in the country’s capital of Kuala Lumpur demanding the resignation of their Prime Minister. The demonstrators are upset over alleged financial impropriety. During tough economic conditions the country has absorbed billions in unaccounted for debt while $700 million ended up in the Prime MinisterNajib Razak’s personal account.
Between 50,000 and 80,000 protesters marched to the center of Malaysia’s capital clamoring for the immediate removal of Prime Minister Najib Razak. Protesters were infuriated after reports emerged that Najib had embezzled up to $700 million from the 1Malasyia Development Berhad (1MDB), fund set up to aid the country during the recession. The fund was managed by U.S. bank Goldman Sachs.
The protesters, representing a broad spectrum of Malaysia’s civil society, flocked to the streets of the country’s capital, despite the heavy presence of police. Kuala Lumpur authorities had denied the group a permit to demonstrate, police have labeled the rally illegal and the government has gone as far as completely banning the yellow clothing worn by the protesting crowds.
All these measures did little to quell the angry demonstrators.
The group organizing the demonstrations is called Bersih, which means clean in Malay, remained steadfast despite police resistance. Bersih leader Maria Chin pointed out that the demonstrations were not anti government. She said, "We don't want to topple the government but we want to topple corrupt politicians."
The government has admitted to the Prime Minister’s receipt of the money. However, they say the amount was a donation from foreign Middle East allies. Najib has gone on to state that he was not involved in any wrong doing.
Najib has been facing calls to resign from both within and outside his party. A junior member of the premier’s ruling party has even filed a lawsuit against him, asking for information on how the money was spent.
The government has been trying to slow down the pace of the investigations since the embezzlement was reported in late July. Najib fired his attorney general in the days following the revelation and when his deputy prime minister called for investigations, he had him dismissed as well.
Jose Ugaz, Chair of Transparency International, said “It is clear that there is a push by the government to not allow this investigation to go forward.”
He proceeded to say, “It is not really believable that all this huge amount of money came as a donation into the personal bank account of the prime minister. Even if it is true, it is absolutely improper that a prime minister received such an amount of money from a secret source. Donation for what?”
The 1MDB fund was set up in 2009 by Najib as a state investment fund that would transform Malaysia’s economy. However, in 2014, reports that the fund had began missing payments to creditors emerged. Investigators later revealed the fund was actually $11 billion in debt.
Malaysian nationals have been suffering from tough economic conditions presided over by a corrupt regime. Reports that their country owed $11 billion in debt were the last straw for many, who have thronged to the streets demanding change. The protests are expected to continue in the coming days, according to organizers.