Malaysians have reasons to be concerned with political developments in
The strife in our neighbouring country
is much too near for our comfort.
Kalimantan is just at our
The madness saw 12,000 Madurese refugees sweltering in Pontianak with many
attempting to cross to neighbouring
Authorities had no choice but to block a
boat carrying 411 Madurese refugees from landing to discourage a flow of boat people.
As ethnic violence flares, threatening
the country's already fragile fabric, the political temperature in Jakarta, too, has shot up.
Indonesian students who protested against the shooting of student demonstrators last May, clashed with the police last week.
It was the first violent clash in almost
Many of us in this region are watching
closely the political developments ahead of the June elections.
As the students pressed for President
B.J. Habibie to hand over power to a
transitional government, the main contenders
have gone on the last lap of the
The scenario is as chaotic as the waves
of religious, ethnic and social tensions
sweeping the sprawling archipelago with
no clear-cut winner until now.
Habibie is harshly dismissed by his
opponents as the mad scientist who says the wrong things at the wrong time.
Abdurrahman Wahid is the blind leader
from Naddlatul Ulama, the largest Muslim organisation, who wants a secular
At the same time, he has said he would
not back Megawati Sukarnoputri, another presidential runner, because she is a woman.
Megawati is regarded by many as a
housewife with no vision. Her opponents
insist that her backers are banking on
her name but she doesn't run the
Then, there is university lecturer Amien Rais, who has been widely criticised for soliciting support from the Americans and Europeans.
Most of us in the region want to see a
return to normalcy in Indonesia as political and economic stability is vital to the progress of the country.
What happens in Indonesia also has an
impact on neighbouring countries. If the
situation there worsens, wrong signals
will be sent to many countries.
To many Americans and Europeans, there is little difference between Malaysia and Indonesia.
There are some local politicians and non-governmental organisation leaders who
are not comfortable with the way
the media has played up the
violence in Indonesia.
Reminders by government leaders on the
need to avoid chaos and uncertainties, they argued, was a form of intimidation among the people.
It was unfair to allege that the
violence was caused by the reformasi movement in Indonesia when a large part of the violence was planned and executed by certain groups within the Indonesian
These politicians said the conditions in Indonesia and Malaysia are different.
They are right. From the start, it was
their tactical mistake to imitate the
reformasi movement in Indonesia.
The Malaysian reformasi supporters chanted the same slogans, wore the same
headbands and staged similar
Many of the reformasi leaders fled to
Indonesia as self-imposed exiles.
They were also eager to gloat over the
Indonesian reformasi ability in toppling
Suharto and wanted the local version to achieve the same with the Malaysian
Indonesian leaders like Amien Rais and
their mass media openly criticised the Malaysian Government and went on to
endorse the reformasi movement in
Unlike the more passionate Indonesians, the response towards the demonstrations among Malaysians were
different. Most Malaysians were unhappy
with such illegal assemblies.
Moderate Malaysians could not accept the
torching of two motorcycles belonging to policemen and the beating up of reporters during the demonstrations.
Like in Indonesia, the local
demonstration organisers were
quick to blame it on provocateurs
and the police whenever the so called peaceful assemblies turned ugly.
But when US Vice-President Al Gore came
to Kuala Lumpur to back the reformasi
group, the silent Malaysians finally roared
There are further differences between
Malaysia and Indonesia. Unlike
Indonesia, which will be holding its
first presidential election, we have a strong tradition of parliamentary democracy.
The army has no place in our Dewan
Rakyat, PAS gets to capture a state government and openly sells its official publication meant
only for members.
Large ceramahs are held all over the
country, in many instances, with no permits.
It appears now that groups who are
uncomfortable with reports of violence
in Indonesia have realised it was a
mistake right from the beginning to copy
the Indonesian reform movement.
Of course, many will argue that more
democratic values should be injected
into our system.
Positive changes are necessary to
strengthen the existing political system. Irrespective of whether these changes come from the Government or reformasi group, we
must not be afraid of change.
Flaws, which stand in the way of
progress, must be rectified. Archaic
laws, which are no longer relevant, ought to be amended or even repealed if the need arises.
There has been too much black and white
in gauging political sentiments. Let's
not forget those in the middle.
If Malaysians do not want to see the
chaos in Indonesia take place in
Malaysia, it is not because of press reports or perceived intimidation.
Let's not insult the intelligence of
Malaysians. They know who are the
backers of street demonstrations.
If anything, everyone will have his own
perception of what and how the nation
should go in becoming more democratic.
Preachers of democracy and freedom must
not forget that democracy and freedom is not only for them. It is also for those who disagree with them.