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Malaysia and Indonesia. You could be so good together

It's been another tumultuous year for the Malaysian Indonesian bilateral relationship by which I mean that those with the most influence over the relationship have continued to act like they are batshit crazy.

Indonesia and Malaysia both became independent nations after World War 2 when both the Dutch and the English, fierce rivals for many centuries in this part of the world, were booted out of their colonial possessions in Asia. For 2 countries with such striking cultural similarities and deep historical roots, it is sad that Malaysia and Indonesia, chose to inherit the animosity of their colonial forebearers. From shortly after independence until the current day relations have swung between the low point of open armed hostility (during the konfrontasi time just after independence) to the dizzying heights of merely ignoring one another across the border.

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But what could the relationship be if only anyone had the vision to see it? Only 2 countries in the world speak the language we call Bahasa Indonesia, Bahasa Malaysia or just Bahasa (it is pretty much all the same). These 2 countries could have deep mutually beneficial links. They could be leveraging their common cultural understanding to be doing an enormous amount of mutually beneficial trade in all kinds of industries from education, oil and gas and agriculture to tourism and transport infrastructure. If only each country would reexamine the other without the prejudice inherited from the colonial era and free from the the insular nationalist mindset that says all things foreign are dangerous.

The crappy bilateral relationship is driven by short sighted mean spirited journalists, blowhard opinion leaders in the punditocracy and politicians ever keen for an external diversion.

maidin.jpgTake for example the recent musings of former Malaysian Information Minister Zainuddin Maidin regarding the 3rd President of Indonesia BJ Habibie. In a recent article written for Malaysian Government owned newspaper, Utusan Melayu, Zainuddin writes:

Presiden Indonesia ketiga, Bacharuddin Jusuf Habibie, yang mencatatkan sejarah sebagai Presiden Indonesia paling tersingkat, tersingkir karena mengkhianati negaranya, telah menjadi tetamu kehormat kepada Ketua Umum Parti Keadilan Rakyat Anwar Ibrahim baru-baru ini.

(Translation) The 3rd President of Indonesia, Bacharuddin Jusuf Habibie, who recorded history as the shortest Presidency (since independence), was kicked out for betraying his country and has just become the honored guest of leader of the Peoples Justice Party, Anwar Ibrahim.


Why does Zainuddin have such a bee in his bonnet about BJ Habibie coming to Malaysia? What is this reference to mengkhianati negara (betraying ones country)? Well supposedly Zainuddin is awfully upset by the independence of Timor-Leste, an event that occurred over 10 years ago, and this apparently is all the fault of BJ Habibie who was Indonesian President at the time.

Beliau disingkirkan setelah menjadi Presiden Indonesia hanya selama 1 tahun 5 bulan kerana bersetuju dengan desakan Barat supaya mengadakan pungutan suara ke atas penduduk Timor Timur dalam Wilayah Indonesia menyebabkan Timor Timur terkeluar daripada Negara Kesatuan Republik Indonesia pada 30 Ogos 1999.

(Translation) He (BJ Habibie) was kicked out after being President of Indonesia for only 1 year and 5 months beause he agreed to the demands of the West to have a referendum of the people of Timor-Leste to see if they would remain within Indonesia. This resulted in Timor-Leste leaving the unified nation that is the Republic of Indonesia on the 30th of August 1999.

Lets discuss Timor-Leste very briefly and then be done with this this rubbish that Timor-Leste should still be a part of Indonesia. In May 2012 Timor-Leste celebrated 10 years of Independence. That event was marked by the attendance of Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, an encouraging sign of the good will and spirit of cooperation between the Governments of Indonesian and Timor-Leste. Timor-Leste is expected to have the sixth largest GDP growth in the world for 2013. After many decades of violence Timor-Leste is entering into a new era of relative peace and prosperity. Life, by all accounts, is not perfect in Timor-Leste but its a darn sight better than it was in the 80's and 90's during the long drawn out separatist movement. History bears out the conclusion that BJ Habibie did the right thing with the Timor-Leste problem and Australian Prime Minister John Howard did the right thing by standing up for Timorese separatists. So Zainuddin Maidin can put aside his affected sympathy for Indonesian nationalism and shut up on this issue.

So why else is Zainuddin Maidin carrying on in this way about BJ Habibie? He has a long list. It becomes more clear as one reads the rest of his misinformed ignorant little screed that it has little to do with any long held convictions on the unity of the Indonesian nation. No, it is more like equal parts long held, petty personal grudge and cheap domestic political point scoring.

First lets look at the long held personal petty grudge:

Kepada saya yang menjadi kenangan besar tentang Habibie ialah dia telah membuat tetamu termasuk Perdana Menteri Tun Dr. Mahathir terpaksa menunggu kedatangannya dari Jakarta lebih dari dua jam di IKIM Kuala Lumpur untuk mendengar ucapannya (ketika itu dia belum jadi presiden). Barangkali Dr. Ismail Ibrahim, kekas Ketua Pengarah IKIM masih ingat peristiwa pahit ini.

Beliau sengaja melakukan ini untuk menunjukkan "aku lebih besar" dan ucapannya yang penuh dengan keegoan begitu panjang sehingga ke peringkat memualkan hadirin, tetapi Dr. Mahathir tetap menunggu dengan setia.

(Translation) For me, the memory that sticks out in my mind regarding Habibie is when he made guests including Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir, wait while he arrived from Jakarta for over 2 hours at IKIM Kuala Lumpur. They were assembled to hear him give a speech (at that time he was not yet President of Indonesia). Probably Dr Ismail Ibrahim, former head of IKIM still remembers that bitter event.

He (Habibie) deliberately did this to demonstrate "I am bigger" and his speech, which was full of his own ego, went on forever to the point that those assembled started to feel nauseas. Yet loyal Dr Mahathir waited politely througout. 

Ok so from this we can see that this is about Zainuddin Maidin and Dr Mahathir Mohammad being made to wait for Habibie who was late to give a speech this one time and then when he gave the speech, Zainuddin didn't like it because he felt Habibie was a bit full of himself.

Really? So Zainuddin Maidin has created a diplomatic incident with Indonesia because he was kept waiting for a few hours at a meeting? Seriously? If BJ Habibie can be said to have a huge ego I think it is nothing compared to Zainuddin Maidin who thinks nothing of creating a diplomatic incident so he can get it off his chest how mad he was to be made to wait for a few hours one day OVER 10 YEARS AGO!

Well no. Seasoned federal politicians and former minister dont ruffle diplomatic feathers over a petty personal grudge. Turns out they need to be making a weak and immature political point at the same time.

1355369058966272067.jpgThe real purpose of Zainuddin's Utusan Melayu article is to attack the Malaysian opposition leader, Anwar Ibrahim. Right now I am writing about the relationship between Malaysia and Indonesia so lets touch only briefly on some of the accusations being flung at Anwar Ibrahim by Zainuddin Maidin. It seems to be a common tactic in the UMNO commentariat to suggest that any 2 individuals that meet each other must necessarily be birds of a feather rather than the more likely reason that they happen to share a common interest. I remember in 2011 when I was invited to interview the Chief Minister of Pahang, some of the UMNO blogs said that I had changed my mind about the Lynas issue and decided that Lynas was actually a good thing for Malaysia because I sat in the same room as Chief Minister Adnan Yaakob to discuss the Lynas matter. Characterized by association. Zainuddin employs the same sloppy logic in his attack on Anwar Ibrahim and BJ Habibie: he lists all the flaws he sees in Habibie and then makes it clear he attributes them also to Anwar because one was the guest of the other. It is certainly true that Habibie was the first leader of Indonesia in over 30 years to believe in Democracy and it may one day play out that Anwar Ibrahim shares that in common in a Malaysian context.

Perhaps it is enough just to say that the chaos in Indonesia after the fall of Soeharto was not caused by the guy that replaced him, Habibie, but by the immense social and political pressure that Soeharto caused himself by staying in power for so long and refusing to aquiece to the growing demand for political freedom. So too can it be said that the building tension in Malaysia is not caused by Anwar Ibrahim, but by the refusal of the ruling class in that country, Barisan Nasional and the UMNOputras, to adjust and adapt to modern times and the demands of a more informed and educated citizenry.

But Anwar Ibrahim isn't even the interesting subject here. What is interesting is this; why did Zainuddin Maidin create a diplomatic row with a neighboring country of over 240 million people just so he could fire another arrow at Anwar Ibrahim that will just fall limply to the floor anyway? There is no reason other than to say that the man is a fool. A total idiot. The original Pak Pandir.

When Anwar met Habibie he promised that if he were Prime Minister he would do a better job of managing the issues that trouble the Malaysia-Indonesia relationship. Given the performance of Zainuddin Maidin there is every reason to believe Anwar on this score. Utusan Melayu is a Government mouth piece. It is owned by the UMNO Govermment and there is every reason to believe that the articles written in Utusan Melayu are approved by a high ranking Government official before they are published. Particularly articles that touch not only on political issues, but on foreign relations. So there is every reason to believe that this slanderous article that has causes such a stir in Indonesia, was approved by somebody in the UMNO led, Malaysian Government. This is what qualifies as national leadership these days?

The problem is that this reckless attitude is not isolated to this incident nor is it confined to the halls of power. The whole damned country needs to have a fresh look at its attitude towards Indonesia.

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Ryan Albrey published on January 28, 2013 6:13 PM.

Taking Photos In Russia was the previous entry in this blog.

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