Tens of thousands of Malaysian opposition supporters rallied late Wednesday to protest what they say are fraud-marred election results that enabled the long-ruling coalition to remain in power.
Opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim called the rally, which filled a sports stadium outside Kuala Lumpur, despite threats by Malaysian police to arrest anyone who attended.
National police chief Ismail Omar had warned earlier that the protest was illegal because Anwar did not apply for a government permit.
Malaysia's Peaceful Assembly Act tightly regulates protests and public gatherings, and requires organizers to receive advance permission for rallies. Anwar, an ex-deputy prime minister, has said the law is an undemocratic assault on free speech.
Supporters followed his directive to wear black T-shirts to the protest with "050513" to mark the date of the poll won by Prime Minister Najib Razak's coalition. He said it is the beginning of a "fierce movement" to challenge the vote and reform Malaysia's electoral system.
Final results from Sunday's election show the National Front coalition captured a large majority of the seats, despite losing the popular vote for the first time in 44 years.
Tian Chua, vice president of the opposition People's Justice Party, says he rejects the notion that the Wednesday protest is illegal.
"There are no issues about objections from the stadium owner, so this cannot be interpreted as a threat to public order. I think the police are probably just following the instructions of the newly sworn-in prime minister, Najib Razak," said Tian Chua. "I don't think the police are expressing a position that is legally valid."
Tian says his coalition will continue the fight to challenge the election results, saying that the government of Prime Minister Najib has lost its legitimacy.
"The results of the poll clearly show that the majority of the people reject his leadership," he said. "At the same time, there are so many eyewitnesses who can testify to massive fraud in various seats."
Rumors of cheating plagued the polls, including the use of ink to mark voters that critics say could be easily washed off. There also were complaints of foreigners being flown into the country to cast ballots.
A group of independent observers on Wednesday gave a mixed verdict. The report by the Center for Public Policy Studies (CPPS) and the Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs (IDEAS) noted a pro-government media bias, a lack of transparency in campaign spending, and the unequal organization of voting constituencies.
But one of the observers, Ramon Navarathnam of CPPS, said the election generally represented the will of the Malaysian people.
"There could have been some little discrepancy which could have, might have, affected the results in very marginal seats. I'm not saying it did, but could. But overall that's what's important, it's captured the spirits and the will of the people of Malaysia," said Navarathnam.
Razak, who was sworn in on Monday, has firmly dismissed the fraud charges, insisting that the results were in line with opinion polls that suggested his coalition was likely to win. The U.S. has also recognized the results.
Although the ruling bloc was able to win 133 of the 222 available seats and extend its 56-year rule, it only received 48 percent of the popular vote, compared to 52 percent for the opposition. It is the coalition’s poorest electoral performance since Malaysia's independence from Britain in 1957.
Some information for this report was provided by AP and AFP.