KUALA LUMPUR – Hundreds of people staged an anti-government rally Saturday in the Malaysian capital, accusing Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim of helping his key ally escape prosecution in exchange for political support.
Prosecutors unexpectedly dropped 47 corruption charges against Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi on Sept. 4, late in the process of his trail. The court approved the application for dismissal but refused to grant Zahid a full acquittal, which means he can be recharged.
Speakers addressing the crowd Saturday in Kuala Lumpur accused Anwar’s government of interfering with the case to let Zahid off the hook in return for political support. Some protesters in the opposition-backed rally wore white shirts emblazoned with the words “Fight Corruption.” They marched in the city center chanting, “Charge Zahid,” “Reform is dead” and “Down with Anwar.”
Protester Muhamed Yahya said there was a “hidden hand at work” that led to the charges against Zahid being dropped.
“They used the back door,” he said.
Prosecutors said Zahid’s case was temporarily halted because further investigation was needed. Anwar has said it was former Attorney General Idrus Harun's decision just before he retired and denied interfering in the case. The dropped charges have led to renewed calls for reforms that would separate the attorney general’s roles as the government’s legal adviser and its public prosecutor.
Zahid heads the United Malays National Organization party, and his support has been pivotal in helping Anwar form a unity government after November’s general election led to a hung Parliament. The dismissal of charges sparked new criticism, particularly in light of the Anwar government's anti-corruption stance.
A lot of promises were not fulfilled by Anwar's government, said protester Zolazrai Zolkapli.
“Their promises were all lies. When we have been cheated by their propaganda and cheated by their manifesto, we come here to show our support” for the rally, he said.
Police had declared the gathering unlawful, as no permission was granted to hold it, but they didn't stop the protest, which ended peacefully after several hours.
Zahid was detained on graft charges in 2018 after UMNO lost power, facing 12 counts of criminal breach of trust, 27 counts of money laundering and eight counts of bribery involving more than 31 million ringgit ($6.7 million) from his family foundation. Prosecutors alleged that money intended for charity was misappropriated for his personal use, including to shop and pay off his credit cards. More than 110 witnesses have testified in his case.