The Malaysian Insider
March 25, 2014
Putrajaya’s last-ditch pivot for openness in the search for Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 has not impressed its partners – be it Beijing that demands more information on satellite data or Washington bemused with contradictions in the hunt for the lost passenger jet.
A strongly-worded editorial from Washington Post today put the entire saga of the plane’s disappearance and Malaysia’s handling of the search as an unfolding disaster that reflects the country’s need for immediate change.
“It is entirely premature to say what happened to the airplane. But it is not too early for Malaysia’s leaders to draw lessons from their unsteady performance of recent weeks and commit themselves to transparency and openness.
“Their alternative is not working,” said the editorial headlined “Malaysia’s airliner response exposes a ruling malaise”.
The six-paragraph article written by the paper’s editorial board sketched out what it felt was wrong about Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s announcement last night on the lost MAS plane’s last position and the airline’s statement on the matter.
“If you are perplexed by Monday’s announcement on the missing Malaysian airliner, no wonder.
“Prime Minister Najib Razak declared that the flight “ended” in the southern Indian Ocean, and the state-owned airline said that “we have to assume beyond a reasonable doubt” that the plane went down in the ocean, far off its course to Beijing.
“Both announcements were vague; neither said much about why or how,” it said.
The editorial described the Malaysian government as being “ham-handed” in its dealings with grieving families and the global glare of attention since the plane carrying 239 people on board went missing on March 8 while enroute to Beijing.
It charged that the government delayed for hours saying anything after the plane first vanished, “and over the next few weeks much of the information it disseminated was conflicting, wrong or misleading”.
“Such a bizarre disaster would be difficult for any government to deal with, and a fair amount of uncertainty and confusion is expected.
“But the Malaysian government has shown signs of a deeper malaise that comes from a half century of rule without challenge or transparency,” the Washington Post editorial said.
The paper noted that when Najib was about to make a statement recently, the prime minister’s spokesperson had told reporters there would be no questions.
“According to Joshua Kurlantzick of the Council on Foreign Relations, writing in Bloomberg Businessweek, when reporters pressed for more access, the reply came back: “Go watch a movie.”
“When China, no champion of transparency, complains — as it did recently, asking for ‘more thorough and accurate information’ from Malaysia — you know the depth of the problem,” the paper said.
The Washington Post editorial pointed out that Malaysia had been ruled by the same governing coalition since independence and had enjoyed strong economic growth.
“We had hopes before last year’s election that, if the vote was free and fair, the country would be on a path toward a more competitive democracy.
“Mr. Najib has taken steps toward modernisation and reform, but the election fell short,” it said.
The influential US paper said Najib’s ruling coalition won a majority of seats in parliament “largely through gerrymandered districts, while the opposition coalition led by Anwar Ibrahim won a popular majority and disputed the outcome”.
“Clearly there is rising popular discontent with corruption, authoritarianism and ethnic favouritism of the ruling powers.
“It is especially disturbing that the government has renewed its politically motivated prosecution of Mr. Anwar on dubious charges of sodomy in order to sideline him from politics,” it said, referring to the May 7 appeals court ruling that jailed Anwar for five years after overturning a 2012 acquittal.
“The use of the sodomy charge is shameful and archaic, but as Graeme Reid of Human Rights Watch pointed out this month in Foreign Policy, if upheld, it could effectively remove Mr. Anwar from politics for 10 years.
“Malaysia should not tolerate this brazen manipulation,” the paper said. – March 25, 2014.