Global Politics

Why Malaysian officials can't seem to handle the heat over missing plane

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Credit: REUTERS/Edgar Su

Malaysia's acting Transport Minister, Hishammuddin Tun Hussein, takes questions from journalists during a news conference about the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370.

Confusion has marked the Malaysian response to the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. The plane and its 239 passengers and crew have been missing since Saturday. 

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(This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.)

Malaysian officials have been accused of being slow to release information, and then of giving contradictory accounts.

Some reports suggest the plane was hundreds of miles off course, in the Indian Ocean. That's where the Malaysians are now searching. But Chinese ships are checking out a spot in the South China Sea.

There have also been claims and counter-claims over whether the missing plane's engines continued to send and receive data long after contact was lost.

Also on Friday, fresh hints at possible foul play after that was earlier ruled out.

Kean Wong, a Malaysian journalist based in Washington, says he's not especially surprised by the performance of Malaysia's officials and politicians.

"It really comes down to the problem of a rather monocultural political scene," says Wong. "Where you've had the same party or coalition in power since Malaysia's independence more than 50 years ago. And you've had a sort of in-breeding if you like of the (political) culture."

"Malaysia," says Wong, "is very much a globalized top 20 trading nation, and engages with the world in a pretty open, modern manner. Except its politics haven't quite caught up." 

He adds, "it still has the political culture that is stuck in a sort of feudal time-warp."

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