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Thousands march in KL against GST
Publication Date : 02-05-2014
Thousands of Malaysians marched through downtown Kuala Lumpur to protest against the coming goods and services tax, as part of May Day events in the country.
Yesterday's anti-GST rally, organised by more than 90 civil society groups and backed by the opposition Pakatan Rakyat, had police permission and remained a relatively peaceful affair with a carnival-like atmosphere.
Some 15,000 protesters met at several points including the Kuala Lumpur City Centre park, then walked towards a main rallying point at Jalan Raja near Independence Square.
Known as the Dataran Merdeka in Malay, the symbolic venue is usually the site of annual Independence Day parades but was off-limits because it is under renovation.
The protesters spent more than two hours waving banners that said "Down with GST" and "Reject a government that is making us poorer", and shouting "Reject GST".
Opposition leaders including Anwar Ibrahim spoke against the GST and the Barisan Nasional-led government.
"The people are telling me they are suffering from rising prices," he said to cheers. "We must stop such oppressive policy."
The government has announced that it would implement a 6 per cent GST on April 1 next year in part to help reduce a budget that has been in deficit for 16 years. It will replace the current sales and services tax which is higher at 16 per cent but which is more of an indirect tax charged mainly by restaurants and retailers.
The GST will be one of Prime Minister Najib Razak's biggest tests as he walks a political tightrope of sticking to a pledge of fiscal reform while at the same time trying to prevent a public backlash as the cost of living rises.
Critics of the GST said it will be a burden because most Malaysians still do not earn much. Only about one million of the population of 28 million pay income tax, which means they have an annual chargeable income of at least 40,000 ringgit (US$12,300).
Yesterday, Najib defended the GST, saying it will secure the country's future.
"If we think rationally... we understand that every government policy is for the people's benefit," he said at a Civil Service Labour Day celebration.
"Don't expect results in one or two days. You sow the seeds today, you expect the fruit tomorrow."
But protesters like Awin Mokhtar, 30, a supervisor who earns 3,000 ringgit a month, said it is already hard to make ends meet even without the GST.
"What future do I have when I have no savings?" she told The Straits Times.
"I can't even afford to get married, let alone raise a family."
Despite fiery speeches, the crowd dispersed at about 6pm without incident, police said. No arrests were made.
A supermarket promoter who wanted to be known only as Ms Jamilah, 25, however, said the anti-GST rally had been hijacked by the opposition.
"I came here to protest against the tax, not to listen to political ceramahs (speeches)," she told The Straits Times.
Because the government repeatedly postponed approving a GST since it was mooted in 2005, economists said it is unlikely to back down this time round.
Legislators tabled the GST Bill in Parliament for a first reading at the end of March. It will be open for debate before it can become law on April 1 next year.