Hundreds of Malaysians staged an anti-government protest on Saturday in defiance of a ban on public gatherings under coronavirus curbs, piling pressure on the embattled prime minister to resign.
The protesters, wearing masks and keeping distance from one another, waved banners reading “failed government” as well as black flags.
It was the first sizeable demonstration in Malaysia for some time, as many had been reluctant to take to the streets due to COVID-related restrictions and for fear of getting infected.
But anger is growing at the government’s handling of the coronavirus outbreak – which is escalating despite a lockdown – and Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin’s attempts to keep his crisis-riven administration in power.
“We fight because while people are suffering, this government is busy playing politics,” Karmun Loh, taking part in the protest in downtown Kuala Lumpur, told the AFP news agency. “This government is … crippling the economy and also destroying our country’s democracy.”
Muhyiddin “is a terrible prime minister”, added demonstrator Shaq Koyok. “He needs to step down.”
There was a heavy police presence and officers blocked attempts by protesters to enter a central square before the rally peacefully dispersed.
Organisers said about 1,000 demonstrators took part but police put the number at approximately 400.
Police told local media that the protesters will be called in for questioning as they had violated the ban on gatherings.
Muhyiddin took power at the head of a scandal-plagued coalition last year without an election following the demise of a reformist administration. But his government is on the verge of collapse after allies withdrew support.
He came under renewed pressure to step down this week after parliament convened following a months-long suspension as part of a virus state of emergency.
His government was accused of dodging a vote that would have tested its shaky majority – drawing a rare rebuke from the country’s revered king.
Sunday is the final day of the six-month state of emergency but the nationwide lockdown will remain in place.
Malaysia has reported almost 1.1 million virus cases and more than 8,800 deaths.