KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysian activists are putting more pressure on embattled Prime Minister Najib Razak to resign with major street rallies this weekend following allegations of suspicious money transfers into his accounts.
Najib has been fighting for political survival after leaked documents in July showed he received some $700 million in his private accounts from entities linked to indebted state fund 1MDB. He later said the money was a donation from the Middle East, fired his critical deputy and four other Cabinet members as well as the attorney general investigating him.
Police have declared the rally, which starts Saturday and ends Sunday, illegal because protesters have no permission to use the Independence Square, a national landmark.
The government blocked the website of Bersih, the coalition for clean and fair elections that is organizing the rallies, and the army said it will intervene if a state of emergency is declared.
Activist Maria Chin, the head of Bersih, which means "clean" in Malay, said that Najib should resign. More importantly, she said the political system and state institutions, which have been dominated by the ruling National Front for decades, must be reformed to be more transparent and accountable.
"Many people have lost confidence in Najib. The Bersih 4 rally will show a vote of no confidence against Najib by the people," Chin said.
She said that Bersih expects more than 250,000 people to attend the rally. It will go on until midnight Sunday, the eve of Malaysia's 58th National Day marking independence from Britain.
This is the fourth rally organized by Bersih, and the third one since Najib took power in 2009. Tens of thousands of people turned up for the last two rallies in 2011 and 2012, which were dispersed by authorities using tear gas and water cannon.
Chin said the protesters will converge at five different locations in Kuala Lumpur before marching to the Independence Square, and will gather around it after authorities warned that the square is off-limits due to preparations for National Day celebrations.
Rallies will also be held simultaneously in Kuching in Sarawak state and Kota Kinabalu in Sabah state, both on Borneo island.
Deputy Home Minister Nur Jazlan Mohamed said Friday that police will monitor and facilitate traffic, but warned of action if it turns violent or protesters break the law. He said that protesters should show their unhappiness with the government at the ballot box, not in the streets.
"If they no longer trust the National Front government, they should wait till the next general elections," due in 2018, he said.
Support for Najib's National Front has eroded in the last two general elections. It won in 2013, but lost the popular vote for the first time to an opposition alliance.
Concerns over the scandal and the 1MDB state fund, which is mired in debts of 42 billion ringgit ($10 billion) since it was set up six years ago, contributed to the Malaysian currency plunging to a 17-year low, beyond 4 ringgit to the dollar, earlier this month.
"Bersih's demands have struck a chord with those who want to change a failed political system and reform an ailing economy," Chin said.