Malaysian police questioned ex-premier Mahathir Mohamad’s daughter and 18 other activists Wednesday over several small, peaceful protests triggered by the elderly leader losing power and a corruption-tainted party’s return.
The reformist “Pact of Hope” alliance, which took power in a historic victory two years ago, collapsed last week and 94-year-old prime minister Mahathir resigned.
He then sought to return as premier but unexpectedly lost out to Muhyiddin Yassin, who is backed by the scandal-mired United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), which had been ousted in 2018.
Several peaceful protests, with crowds of no more than a few hundred people, took place in Kuala Lumpur following the weekend decision to appoint Muhyiddin prime minister.
But under Malaysian law, it is illegal to hold a protest without first getting police permission, and on Wednesday a group of activists who took part were called in for questioning.
Among them was Mahathir’s daughter, Marina, who participated in a small rally on Sunday.
“This reminds us of more than two years ago, when so many of us had to undergo this,” the 62-year-old, who is a leading women’s campaigner activist, told AFP.
“The new government has only been in two days and all this is happening.”
Activist Fadiah Nadwa Fikri, who was questioned for taking part in two protests, added: “We experienced this before and now we’re seeing the same thing unfolding.”
The long-ruling UMNO-led regime ejected from power in 2018 was frequently accused of using heavy-handed tactics to curb free speech and the right to protest.
Mahathir’s alliance, which included leader-in-waiting Anwar Ibrahim, sought to reform draconian laws, but made only small steps during its two years in office.
His allies have challenged Muhyiddin’s legitimacy, saying he did not win an election and does not have majority support from MPs, which is necessary to become premier.
Mahathir wants to bring a vote of no-confidence in Muhyiddin’s leadership when parliament sits again. But his plan suffered a blow Wednesday when the legislature’s return was delayed from March 9 to May 18.