After the historic victory of Jakarta Governor Joko Widodo in the Indonesian presidential election, the most significant news story of the week in Southeast Asia is the coming together of Malaysian politicians to condemn the shooting down of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 that killed 298 passengers and crew members.
Malaysia’s parliament held an emergency session on July 23 and unanimously approved a motion condemning those responsible for firing a missile that led to the crash of MH17 in eastern Ukraine during its flight from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur.
The motion also called for a “comprehensive investigation to be carried out to bring those responsible to justice.” In a rare moment in Malaysian politics, leaders of the ruling and opposition parties set aside partisan differences to pass the resolution.
The opposition even praised Prime Minister Najib Razak for his success in clinching a deal with eastern Ukrainian rebels to allow Malaysia to secure the MH17 black box and the remains of the victims. The agreement would also make it possible for a Malaysia-led team to investigate the crash site, although this has yet to happen as of this writing.
The deal that Najib secretly negotiated with the rebels was hailed by many analysts as a diplomatic coup for Malaysia. On his Facebook page, Najib explained why he chose a quiet approach in dealing with the rebels.
“These were extraordinary circumstances which called for extraordinary measures. There were risks involved in pursuing this agreement. But we felt an obligation to explore all avenues to break the impasse, and secure the return of the remains and the black boxes. After meeting the families, I felt that we owed it to them to act,” he wrote.
Najib also assured the public that the deal was finalized without giving any concessions to the rebels.
No party has claimed responsibility for the MH17 crash, although Ukraine and Russia have accused each other of being guilty of the fatal missile launch. Malaysia has not made any accusations yet, and its position since last week has been to ask for an independent probe into the disaster.
Members of parliament like Wee Choo Keong commended Najib’s decision to shun a combative attitude while coordinating with the other countries involved in the disaster. “Under normal circumstances, the ‘popular’ or easiest way out for any PM was to go along with the power[s] that be by condemning another nation on the shooting down of MH17, but our PM did not embark on such irresponsible act,” the parliamentarian noted on his website.
Malaysian leaders were joined by ordinary citizens who have been actively demanding the prosecution of those who ordered the shooting down of the passenger plane. Writer V Shuman noted how the MH17 tragedy has almost miraculously united Malaysian society.
“This tragedy has united Malaysians in grieving, across racial and religious divide[s] as well as political leanings. We see, after a long time, a rare occasion where politicians and their supporters, and even racial and religious bigots, have stopped spouting nonsense and bickering among themselves,” he wrote.
But bigger challenges lie ahead, since there are fears that the evidence of the crash has been tampered with already. Malaysia may have to decisively confront the superpower countries involved in the crash and the wider Ukrainian conflict, once the independent probe has done its work. In the meantime, Malaysia should continue to prioritize the return of the victims’ remains to their respective home countries.