MALAYSIA’s historic government change on May 9 might have been inspired by the reform movement in Indonesia 20 years ago, but the country need not follow the republic’s reform agenda.
Renowned Indonesian journalist Goenawan Mohamad said Indonesia and Malaysia were different countries with different histories.
“It is impossible for the reform movement to be the same… the grass is always greener on your neighbour’s lawn,” he told The Malaysian Insight in an interview in Kuala Lumpur ,recently.
Goenawan, who founded the magazine Tempo, was involved in the reform movement that toppled then President Soeharto in May 1998.
He was one of the people behind the scenes and the founding of Parti Amanat Nasional (PAN). He quit the party in 2014 in the belief PAN had strayed from its original mission, in the run-up to the presidential election.
The reform movement in Malaysia started a few months later the same year, after then deputy prime minister Anwar Ibrahim was sacked over allegations of corruption and sodomy.
Goenawan said Malaysia could at least emulate the efforts of Indonesian journalists in fighting for freedom of speech at the end of the new order.
The writer and poet, who was in town on invitation from Galeri Ilham to deliver a lecture in conjunction with the Latiff Mohidin: Pago-pago (1960-1969) art exhibition, said freedom of expression was crucial for public discourse.
However, he said he was disappointed to see that readership been decreasing for some time now for traditional media in a new Malaysia, where the press enjoyed more freedom.
“There is now freedom but the impact may not be huge. But who knows. Usually freedom of speech helps in many things.”
Goenawan, who runs cultural art centre Komunitas Salihara in Jakarta, said Malaysia could also learn from Indonesia’s fight against graft.
“Corruption is big in Malaysia but not as bad as Indonesia,” he said, citing as example the 41 out of 45 district councillors in Malang, Jawa Timur who were charged with corruption last month.
Anwar, prime minister-in-waiting and PKR president-elect, had visited Indonesia after he was released from jail and said that Malaysia needed to learn from Indonesia how to implement the reform agenda.
“There should be a team to study Indonesia’s experience from President BJ Habibie’s era to President Joko Widodo’s time now… what are the strengths and shortcomings,” he was quoted as saying by CNN Indonesia.
Goenawan said people were always talking about Malaysia and Indonesia learning from each other as many thought the two countries shared many similarities.
“Our countries are interesting because we are the same and also not the same. We feel we are the same while at the same time, we are also different. With Singapore, we have no such problem. We are just different.
“But when it comes to Indonesia and Malaysia, we feel we know each other, but we don’t,” he said.
He said there were some back home who would compare Indonesia unfavourably to Malaysia.
“It’s the same with Malaysia. Apart from the grass being greener, it can be used for a criticism campaign,” he said. – October 8, 2018.