Malaysia is a nation of empty promises anyway, so Najib could have certainly gotten away with it.
Everyone would have ignored the rally and that small turn-out would have yielded next to no publicity at all.
The Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg both have blunt rebukes for Najib.
Crackdown 2.0 in Malaysia
Based on the evidence of this weekend's rally in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysians aspire for a more competitive political system than what they have. Also based on this weekend's evidence, Prime Minister Najib Razak isn't prepared to give it to them.
An estimated 20,000 or more people peacefully gathered in Kuala Lumpur Saturday to call for free and fair elections. Their complaints included vote-rigging and gerrymandering of constituencies to the ruling party's benefit. Bersih 2.0, as the rally was called, was the biggest event of its kind in four years. The original Bersih (the word means "clean" in Malay) called for electoral reforms in 2007.
As with the original rally, this one was met not by understanding from the government but by police deploying tear gas and water cannons. More than 1,600 attendees were detained and released late Sunday. One demonstrator died from a heart attack.
Bloomberg warns of economic consequences to this sort of over-the-top government thuggery.
Investing 101 Means Looking Out the Windows More
Arab Spring, meet Malaysia’s summer of discontent.
That thought is surely on Prime Minister Najib Razak’s mind as the dust settles from Saturday’s botched demonstrations in Kuala Lumpur. By “botched” I mean the way Najib mishandled what should have been a ho-hum political-reform rally of little note by the international news media.
Public-relations experts would have told Najib to let the Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections have their day in the capital. Let them wave signs and wear their yellow shirts. Instead, he tried to stop the rally, increasing its size. Then, he cracked down. Police fired tear gas and detained 1,697 people, turning the event into a top cable TV news story.
The over-the-top response did something worse: It enraged Malaysians who weren’t all that interested in rallying before Saturday. It also underlined the rise in political risk sweeping Asia, something that investors would be wise to track.
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