SEPANG, Malaysia — 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 and, until recently, robust economic growth.
But 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.
Civilian and military leaders on Wednesday revealed that they had known for the past four days, but did not publicly disclose, that military radar had picked up signals of what may have been the missing aircraft. It appeared to be flying on a westerly course sharply off its intended flight path to Beijing.
If the radar readings were from the missing plane, it could mean a radical reinterpretation of where it ended up. And it was only under a barrage of intense questioning on Wednesday from a room packed with reporters who had arrived from many countries that officials acknowledged that the last recorded radar plot point showed the jet flying in the direction of the Indian Ocean — and at a cruising altitude, suggesting it could have flown much farther.