On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

Grey areas line path to democracy

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
Sarawak  recently.

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
a month.

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 
their anger.

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.