The Malaysian Insider
March 29, 2014
Will Malaysians have the appetite for a political witch hunt after the flight MH370 crisis?
A writer contributing to Al Jazeera website says that right now many are emotionally exhausted with the affair and by the time all the questions have been answered and murkiness cleared, it could be business as usual in Malaysia.
“Once the dust settles on this tragedy, could the lessons learnt act as a catalyst for the political shake up, or even awakening, that Malaysia so urgently needs?
“Will the Malaysian people demand a more answerable government from now on – and more importantly will the ruling elite deliver?” freelance writer Zarina Banu wrote in Al Jazeera this week.
She pointed out the clumsy and conflicting communications over flight MH370, which was carrying 239 people on board when it disappeared en route to Beijing on March 8. No physical wreckage or debris has yet to be found.
But she said Malaysians were split about the way the leadership has managed these catastrophic events – a fissure that mirrors a virtual 50-50 political divide between the government and the opposition.
“The less urban, latched-on population believe the government has been doing a sterling job. This demographic tends to back the ethnically Malay ruling party, the United Malays National Organisation (Umno) and is buoyed by how calmly acting Transport Minister (Datuk Seri) Hishamuddin Hussein, has been toughing it out in front of the world’s media.
“In fact, many Malaysians have felt the international media is giving them an undeserved kicking. Night after night, the emotions of Chinese relatives have been aired on mainland media, while in the US, Republicans and Democrats have demanded more American involvement in the search and investigation,” Zarina said.
She also noted that Malaysians had equally felt that the national carrier has been taking great pains to treat the families of the 239 victims on board the Boeing 777 with care and sensitivity.
Malaysia Airlines, until now with a reputation as one of Southeast Asia’s best carriers, was a great source of pride for many in Malaysia, she said.
But Zarina said “the urban, plugged-in, analytical rest of the population are more cynical”.
“Nineteen days into the tragedy they want to know why, despite the widespread availability of 21st century communications equipment, that Malaysia, of all countries, managed to ‘lose’ a plane. The failure of the Royal Malaysian Air Force to intercept the jet has left many Malaysians feeling unprotected and embarrassed by the laxness of their armed forces,” she said.
Pakatan Rakyat had been pressing the government in Parliament over the heedlessness of its armed forces, only to be told that it was playing partisan politics at a time of tragedy, she said.
“This deflection of blame and initial arrogant nature of the Malaysian leadership during the first chaotic days is vexingly reminiscent of the behaviour of the ruling party, Umno and its coalition flunkeys.
“Time and time again, the leadership plays the so-called unity card,” she said, noting that the ruling coalition employed the fear of violent disunity among the three races of Malays, Chinese and Indians to instil compliance and suppress open debate.
“Race and religion are used on a daily basis to rupture the relationships between the three ethnic groups. Today, unlike in the 1970s and 1980s, there is very little intermingling, between Malays, Indians and Chinese.
“The country now has Malay teachers telling their third, fourth and fifth generation Malaysian-born Chinese and Indian students to go back to where their forefathers came from and as time goes by, the Chinese and Indians are finding themselves increasingly politically and economically crowded out of their home,” Zarina said.
She noted that Malaysia was home to a young population – where out of 29 million people around 11.5 million are between the ages of 10 and 29.
And that many are using social media to “vent their grievance and put pressure on the leadership to reform its silo thinking”.
“But without institutional fractures and a change of government to what extent can the disappearance of a plane spark concrete political reform?
“The opposition may continue to press for answers about how the plane went undetected for so long, but whether the government will furnish a credible response in return is arguable.
“Once the heat is off and the international media circus leaves Kuala Lumpur taking its cameras and commentary to another news hot spot the government will undoubtedly settle into its old ways,” Zarina said.
She also argued that Malaysia “tinkered at the edges of authoritarianism and is relatively corrupt – Transparency International ranks Malaysia 53 out of 177 countries – and the leadership deploys powerful tools of social control covering legislation, the media and distribution of state finances to maintain its power”.
“Moreover, Malaysia’s political blueblood – of which the acting transport minister is a member – co-opts an unskilled and unmerited network of friends and relatives into a heady mix of power and money that can deliver riches and status to those on the inside,” she said.
“Will Malaysians even have the appetite for a political witch hunt after the crisis? Right now, many are emotionally exhausted with the affair. They’ve never experienced a trauma of this magnitude played out millimetre by millimetre in front of the world.
“Like the families themselves, Malaysians are hoping that hard evidence of the plane and what brought it down will quickly emerge to deliver complete closure to the tragedy.
“Only at that point can they start looking at the ramifications. But by then, it might be too late and rather than the disaster serving as a catalyst for change, it will be business as usual,” she said. – March 29, 2014.