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Malaysian Airline Captain Zaharie

March 20, 2014

In theory, the country of Malaysia is a constitutional monarchy. In fact, the country is an authoritarian bastion of religious, ethnic, linguistic and ideological discrimination.

The Malaysian head of state is a king, selected every five years by the hereditary Malay rulers of the nine Malay States. The other four Malaysian states have no say. The king in turn appoints the prime minister, selecting a member of the popularly elected House of Representatives who in the king’s opinion commands majority support in the House. The Senate majority is appointed by the king, on the recommendation of the king’s selected prime minister.

Parliamentary elections in 2013 were won by the opposition Pakatan Rakyat, or People’s Alliance. The Alliance took 51 percent of the vote, whereas the governing Barisan Nasional, or National Front, took 47 percent. Still, the National Front won 133 of 222 seats in the House, because district lines amplify the votes of rural voters, who favor the Front, over those of urban voters, who favor the Alliance. In fact, since gaining independence from Great Britain in 1957, Malaysia has been continuously governed by the National Front and its predecessor party.

By constitutional fiat, ethnic Malays are deemed to be Muslim, and all Malaysian Muslims are subject to Shariah courts. The National Front’s platform favors Malay Muslims, who are known as bumiputera. Bumiputera enjoy statutory preferences in employment, education, housing and business. Bumiputera are legally favored over Chinese, Indian and other ethnic minorities; over Buddhist, Christian, Hindu and other religious minorities; and over more than 130 linguistic minorities. The country suffers from considerable ethnic and religious tensions.

The Malaysian judiciary is nominally independent, but its actual independence is subject to serious question. The governing party has enjoyed the ability to shut down opposition newspapers, arrest and detain opposition figures without trial under the Internal Security Act, and deploy stern criminal laws to contain dissent.

A long-time opposition leader, Anwar Ibrahim, has been the subject of a long-term government smear campaign. In 1999, the prime minister publicly called Anwar a homosexual, and he was arrested and convicted on sodomy and corruption charges. The sodomy conviction was eventually overturned, but the trumped-up corruption charge was sustained, resulting in a five-year ban from politics.

Anwar was able to re-enter politics in April 2008, and sure enough, in June 2008 he was arrested on new sodomy charges. His acquittal was overturned on appeal earlier this month, and he was sentenced to five years in prison. Meanwhile, a mysterious “sex tape” surfaced in 2011, purportedly showing Anwar with a prostitute. The man on the video who is supposed to be Anwar is apparently significantly heavier than Anwar, and wears glasses (which Anwar does not) – and there is every reason to think that the tape is a set-up.

It is against this backdrop that we learn that the captain of the missing Malaysian Airlines plane was an opposition supporter.

Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah has been a Malaysian Airlines pilot for more than 30 years, and is a qualified flight simulator examiner.

The investigation of the missing plane has been remarkable in highlighting the undemocratic nature of the Malaysian government. Officials standing before the world’s microphones are palpably unused to responding to challenging questions. They are manifestly not accustomed to public accountability.

The investigation has been remarkable in another respect: public disclosure of facts and evidence has been parsimonious and painfully slow. With one exception.

Malaysian government officials did not hesitate to disclose that Captain Zaharie had a flight simulator in his home, and that files had been deleted from its hard drive a month before the flight. I’ve never had a flight simulator in my home, but I delete files from my computer’s hard drive all the time. Deletion of files simply cannot stand by itself as a basis for suspicion.

The opposition party platform favors pluralistic democratic reforms for Malaysia, and Captain Zaharie expressed support for opposition principles on social media. I’m not much of a conspiracy fan, but any accusation against Captain Zaharie that may come from the Malaysian government must be regarded as deeply suspect.

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