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Tragic mishandling of MH370: Sad reflection of problems facing Malaysian democratic and legal process

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The Hon Michael Danby
Federal Member for Melbourne Ports
Shadow Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Opposition
Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for the Arts

Mr DANBY (Melbourne Ports) (21:08):  The smooth transition by Indonesia from the Suharto dictatorship to a functioning democracy is something all observant Australians recognise. Nothing highlights this more than the raucous nature of the Indonesian media. My friend Bambang Harymurti, who is the editor of Tempo and now runs his own TV station, is constantly chasing corrupt politicians, institutions and bureaucrats. Good on him!

Indonesia has achieved what Malaysia has yet to achieve—that is, a real and functioning democracy. Prior to last year's Malaysian election the leader of the opposition, Anwar Ibrahim, and opposition parties enjoyed no access to the Malaysian media. They were severely disadvantaged by the electoral system.

If the events of the last 10 days have highlighted anything, it is that democrats everywhere are now aware of the consequences of the effects of lack of democracy in Malaysia. We have not seen the Malaysian government demonstrating the leadership required following the disappearance of flight MH370. It is seen, as The Australian editorial noted today, as 'chaotic and confused'. The effects of what the New York Times described as the dysfunctional leadership in Malaysia have been made clear to the rest of the world by the poor investigation of the missing flight, which has been marked by suppression of information, obfuscation and contradiction.

The mishandling of the investigation began with confusion regarding stolen passports and false claims of baggage not being put on the aircraft. Several days later, the authorities were found to have withheld vital information regarding the aircraft's appearance on Malaysian air force radar and confirmation that the plane had suddenly changed its route. The authorities held this information for four days, despite the terrible frustration of family members—not to mention the millions of dollars spent by the international community, including Australia, on these increasingly desperate rescue efforts. A quote in The Australian rightly described the Malaysian leadership as:

A ruling elite in power since independence in 1957 that has long regarded itself as above scrutiny has shown itself incompetent in dealing with a major crisis that involves something other than simply cracking down on political opponents…

Anwar Ibrahim rejects speculation of foul play by MH370's captain; defends pilots

We have now heard allegations about the captain having attended court on behalf of the opposition leader, Anwar Ibrahim, which is somehow being related to the disappearance of the plane and claims in the London Daily Mail that Anwar Ibrahim is an Islamic fundamentalist. With all the authority I can summon I say that this is baseless. Anwar Ibrahim is a democrat and is seeking to bring his country to full democratic modernity.

The mishandling of this investigation and the grief that it has caused, alongside Malaysia's suppression of the opposition, have to be seen in a context. Charging the Anwar with sodomy every time he looks like he will win an election is a sad reflection of a problem that faces the Malaysian democratic and legal process. Anwar has been harassed for the past 15 years on these charges and on 7 March had his high court acquittal reversed, a decision that resulted in a further five-year jail sentence.

I have explained before that Anwar was Deputy Prime Minister in 1998 when he fell out with the then Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad—no friend of Australia. Anwar was beaten up, arrested, tried on faked evidence and coerced testimony and jailed for four years, before his conviction was finally overturned in 2004. The same kind of fate awaits him again.

Planted stories - conspiracy theories aplenty on MH370 trying to implicate Anwar Ibrahim

The reason the ruling party, UMNO, fears Anwar is simply that he is the first Malay politician to challenge successfully its monopoly of the Malay vote, which is the basis of its longstanding hold on power. His party have taken more than 60 seats away from UMNO at successive elections and together with younger educated Malays and Indian and Chinese minorities might form a future democratic majority in Malaysia.

The families of the missing people on board the flight MH370 want to see a Malaysian government acting transparently, openly and democratically. I am afraid there is a lot more to this issue than simply the disappearance of the flight that has led to the terrible fate that has befallen all of those people on that Malaysia Airlines plane.


+1 #1 Antony Gasper 2014-03-19 14:43
a very deep understanding of the actual situation in Malaysia. Indonesia is well on its way to a vibrant democracy and is a matter of time before Malaysia has to play catch to its once poor cousin.

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