By JOHN FLUHARTY
Over the last several days, the Malaysian government’s ruling party has been exploiting the loss of MA Flight 370 in a desperate attempt to use the events of the past few weeks as a political tool to further squash the pro-democracy movement within their nation.
Malaysia’s Barisan Nasional government and its predecessor party Perikatan (Alliance), comprised mostly of ethnic Malays, has controlled the government since Malaysia’s independence from Britain in 1957. Since that time the government has sought to consolidate its power through corruption and intimidation of opposition parties that seek to bring about democratic reforms.
The strongest challenge to the ruling party’s grip on power has come from the opposition coalition led by Anwar Ibrahim and the Pakatan Rakyat coalition who have effectively built a network of individuals who support greater transparency in government, human rights for women, ethnic Indian and Chinese populations, and non-Islamic communities.
In 1998, in return for Pakatan Rakyat’s success, the government made selective use of the country’s anti-gay laws to convict Anwar Ibrahim on trumped-up charges of sodomy and sentenced him to nine years in prison only to be released six years into his sentence with the conviction overturned.
In 2008, Ibrahim’s Pakatan Rakyat scored tremendous victories in national and provincial elections, including in Kuala Lumpur’s neighboring province of Selangor. As a response, the government pressured an overturn of Ibrahim’s acquittal, which resulted in an additional five years in prison. This occurred just days before the disappearance of Flight 370.
In 2014, Anwar Ibrahim had intended to challenge the government for control of Selangor Province just outside of Kuala Lumpur. This province’s sizable support for pro-democracy reforms would have given Ibrahim a distinct advantage in the race. There can be no doubt that his latest jail sentence is a result of further gains by Ibrahim and the Pakatan Rakyat coalition. Furthermore, it should come as no surprise that they are willing to go to any length to ensure they are able to further wound any threat to their corrupt government.
By alleging that the tragedy may have been the result of the airline crew acting in sympathy to the pro-democracy efforts and who wanted to show their opposition to Ibrahim’s sentence, is absurd. The international outcry and domestic pushback within Malaysia is a telling sign that the government is out of control.
The fact is, the Barisan Nasional government has finally come to the conclusion that the citizens of Malaysia have reached their limit. They are tired of a government that is unresponsive to the needs of its people, uses the levers of power to intimidate pro-democracy leaders and manipulates the outcome of elections.
The transparent attempt to use the tragedy of Malaysian Flight 370 as a tool to further its own domestic political agenda serves as yet one more reminder to the Malaysian people of the need to continue to fight for democracy and bring about an end to politics as usual in their country.
Over the last several days the government has sought to use the Flight 370 tragedy as an opportunity to distract attention from its continued attempts to discredit pro-democracy reforms. In doing so they have unwittingly revealed an inability to handle the attention on a global scale as demonstrated in their poor management of the media and international inquiry about the loss of MA Flight 370, which has not only discredited them internationally, but strengthened the appeal of the opposition.