This weekend tens of thousands protestors gathered in Kuala Lumpur and elsewhere calling for political reform in Malaysia. They were joined twice by 90-year-old Mahathir Mohamad, who ran the nation for more than two decades and has—like many of the protestors—called for the removal of embattled prime minister Najib Razak, whom he helped put in power.
The rallies ended just before the nation’s Independence Day, which takes place today (Aug. 31).
Najib is under pressure after last month’s revelation that nearly $700 million found its way into his bank accounts shortly before the close-fought 2013 general election. He claimed the money was donated by an unnamed Arab family. He sacked his deputy prime minister Muhyiddin Yassin, who called for the truth on 1MDB, and he’s worked to silence publishers, journalists, and others.
The rallies called for clean elections, clean government, the right to dissent, a strengthened parliament, and the rescue of Malaysia’s faltering economy. They were named Bersih, after the Malay word for “clean.” Organizers put the number of protestors in Kuala Lumpur at 200,000 on Saturday and 300,000 on Sunday, while authorities—who had declared the rallies illegal beforehand—said the number was closer to 25,000.
With the gap between estimates so glaring, one post shared drone footage from an anonymous source showing the crowds from above.
Malaysians and their supporters were also marching around the globe, including in London, Melbourne, Hong Kong, and other cities:
The amounts involved in the transfers to Najib’s accounts have captivated Malaysians being asked to tighten their belts to help reduce the nation’s budget deficit. In April Najib’s administration implemented a highly resented consumption tax of 6% on all goods and services. Late last year it removed subsidies for gasoline, diesel, and sugar, and it plans to continue cutting others, including for liquefied petroleum gas and cooking oil.
Meanwhile Najib’s wife Rosmah Mansor—dubbed “the first lady of shopping”—has been likened to Imelda Marcos for her extravagant buying binges abroad.