Malaysia’s governing elite has clung to power without interruption since independence from Britain almost six decades ago through a combination of tight control of information, intimidation of the opposition..worldwide bafflement at the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 has challenged the country’s paternalistic political culture and exposed its coddled leaders to the withering judgments of critics from around the world.
Malaysia has had little experience with handling a crisis on this scale. It is also an ethnically polarized society where talent often does not rise to the top of government because of patronage politics within the ruling party and a system of ethnic preferences that discourages or blocks the country’s minorities, mainly ethnic Chinese and Indians, from government service.
Ethnic Malays, who make up about half of the population, hold nearly all top government positions and receive a host of government preferences because of their status as “sons of the soil.”
Authoritarian laws have helped keep the governing party, the United Malays National Organization, in power — and an ascendant opposition in check.
The day before Flight 370 disappeared, the leader of the opposition, Anwar Ibrahim, was sentenced to five years under a sodomy law that is almost never enforced. Critics called the case an effort to block the opposition’s rise at a time when the governing party’s popularity is waning.
Then on Tuesday, a court convicted Karpal Singh, another opposition politician, of sedition, a law enacted in colonial times.
“We call it persecution, not prosecution,” said Ambiga Sreenevasan, a lawyer and the former head of the Malaysian Bar Council.
The crisis also highlighted a lack of competence in government that Mr. Ibrahim said was related to a deference to authority and reluctance to take initiative. “There’s always been a kind of wait-for-instructions-from-the-top attitude,” he said.
“They have never faced pressure to perform like this,” said Ms. Lee, the management consultant. “But now international eyes are on them, and they have nowhere to hide.”
source: New York Times