Airliner crisis compounds ruling Malaysian govt's woes
Publish Date: Mar 22, 2014
Airliner crisis compounds ruling Malaysian govt's woes
Prime Minister Rizak
  • mail
  • img

KUALA LUMPUR  - Malaysia's missing-plane crisis has exposed the shortcomings of a ruling regime already wrestling with a rapidly shrinking support base, fierce racial divisions and international criticism of its tough handling of political opponents.

The same government has ruled since Malaysia's birth in 1957, and political observers said its much-criticised response to the jet drama is symptomatic of years of institutional atrophy under an ethnic Malay elite known for cronyism.

Analysts said rancour over the still-unexplained disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 and its 239 people, two-thirds of whom were Chinese, could also complicate plans to draw closer to China -- Malaysia's biggest trading partner and a growing source of tourist revenue.

"The general level of Malaysian political performance, competence and adequacy has plummeted," said Clive Kessler, a Malaysia politics researcher at the University of New South Wales, who cites a "long, slow, protracted crisis of governance" over the past decade.

Experts stress that any country would struggle to cope with the plane's baffling disappearance on March 8, and Malaysia denies mishandling it.

But allegations of incompetence and evasiveness have clearly unsettled the ruling Barisan Nasional (National Front) government.

Not used to being challenged 

Barisan is unused to being challenged by Malaysia's meek, state-dominated press and has basked in decades of admiration of Malaysia as an economically successful melting pot, despite longstanding criticism over policies that discriminate against non-Malay minorities.

But ashen-faced officials have been subjected to daily grillings by combative foreign media in daily briefings in sometimes tense scenes beamed live in Malaysia and around the world.

"This is not a good look for Malaysia. I do think that the Barisan government has done some serious damage to its international reputation," said Michael Barr, an Asian politics expert at Australia's Flinders University.

The affair also has trained attention on Barisan's bruising political tactics, particularly its treatment of opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim.

Anwar, who accuses the government of hurling false criminal charges against him in a bid to halt the stunning recent successes of his opposition alliance, was convicted of sodomy and sentenced to five years in jail just hours before MH370 took off.

The verdict, denounced by rights groups and questioned by Washington, was dragged into the MH370 media glare after it was revealed that the flight's captain, Zaharie Ahmad Shah, was a member of Anwar's political party.

"With an international audience watching, this is showing that what (Malaysia's government) thinks is acceptable here, is not at all tolerable by international standards," said Bridget Welsh, a Malaysia politics analyst at Singapore Management University.

Barisan is routinely rapped by anti-graft groups for widespread corruption and cronyism -- Transport and Defence Minister Hishammuddin Hussein, the government's face on MH370, is the cousin of Prime Minister Najib Razak.

Even China's opaque Communist Party leadership has criticised Malaysia's perceived lack of transparency, while Chinese relatives of passengers angrily allege a cover-up.

Pragmatic Beijing is unlikely to upset mutually beneficial trade links, but the plane drama will certainly cause economic worry in Malaysia, said Welsh.

Exports to China have become critical to maintaining the growth Barisan banks on for support.

Bilateral trade has soared -- up 11.8 percent in 2013 to $106 billion, according to Chinese figures. Najib and China's President Xi Jinping last year pledged still-cosier ties and targeted $160 billion in trade by 2017.

The flow of Chinese tourists to Malaysia also has accelerated, hitting 1.8 million in 2013, up 15 percent on-year, behind only Singaporean and Indonesian visitors.

Rebuilding credibility 

"This will require a significant effort to rebuild Malaysia's credibility abroad," Welsh said of the potential economic impact.

"Once you lose it, it takes time to win back."

The crisis comes at a bad time for the mild-mannered Najib, who launched a reform drive three years ago in a failed bid to shore up voter support. That has been abandoned under pressure from conservatives in his ruling party, and Najib appears weakened.

Malaysian voters have deserted Barisan at an accelerating pace over corruption, rule of law concerns, and a sense of drift.

Anwar's opposition won more votes than Barisan in May 2013 elections but the ruling coalition retained parliament thanks to seat allocations that favour its rural Malay base.

In particular, Malaysia's sizable Chinese community -- whose industriousness is a critical component of growth -- increasingly chafe under a decades-old system of preferences for Malays.

Racial tensions also have flared in recent months over disputes between the Muslim majority and Christian minority.

Analysts said Barisan could turn things around by successfully appealing to national unity amid the crisis -- especially if the plane is found.

Hishammuddin outlined that hope Friday, saying the MH370 situation "cuts across race, cuts across religion and now it cuts across boundaries amongst Malaysians."



The statements, comments, or opinions expressed through the use of New Vision Online are those of their respective authors, who are solely responsible for them, and do not necessarily represent the views held by the staff and management of New Vision Online.

New Vision Online reserves the right to moderate, publish or delete a post without warning or consultation with the author.Find out why we moderate comments. For any questions please contact

  • mail
  • img
blog comments powered by Disqus
Also In This Section
IS claims deadly Tunisia bus bombing
The Islamic State group on Wednesday claimed the bombing of a presidential guard bus in the Tunisian capital that killed at least 12 people....
Kenyan president fires five graft-tainted ministers
President Uhuru Kenyatta fired five government ministers embroiled in corruption scandals in a cabinet reshuffle late Tuesday amid growing criticism of runaway graft in Kenya....
Germany to send 650 troops to Mali to relieve France
Germany will send up to 650 soldiers to Mali, Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen said Wednesday, to provide some relief to France in its global fight against the Islamic State jihadists....
Nigeria faces separatist pressure over oil wealth sharing
When Boko Haram captured territory in Nigeria's northeast last year and declared a caliphate, there were real fears for the sovereignty of Africa's most populous nation....
Turkey shoots down Russian war plane on Syria border
NATO member Turkey on Tuesday shot down a Russian fighter jet on the Syrian border, threatening a major spike in tensions between two key protagonists in the four-year Syria civil war....
US issues global travel alert due to
The United States issued a worldwide travel alert on Monday warning American citizens of "increased terrorist threats" in the wake of the Paris attacks...
Is Uganda ready for the pope's visit?
Can't Say
follow us
subscribe to our news letter