June 15, 2015
TEMPO: Malaysian Politics reminiscent of the Suharto Era
Political developments in Malaysia, including Putrajaya’s crackdown on critics, resonate with Indonesians because they remind them of times under the late Suharto who ruled for 31 years, said a senior editor of Indonesia’s Tempo magazine.
Bambang Harymurti said following the magazine’s report in April on Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak and his wife Datin Seri Rosmah Mansor, there has been increased interest among Indonesians in Malaysian affairs.
The article in Tempo, titled “Hidup Mewah Sang Perdana Menteri” (The Luxurious Life of the Prime Minister), discussed at length the couple’s reported purchases, including Rosmah’s range of expensive Birkin handbags and jewellery.
Malaysian Ambassador to Indonesia Datuk Seri Zahrain Hashim had then said there was no need to scrutinise their spending habits because Najib came from an upper class family.
“The Prime Minister is of high-standing and noble descent (berdarjat dan bangsawan). His spending is not a problem if he can afford it,” he reportedly said.
Zahrain had also said that he would meet Tempo editors, but that did not faze the weekly, Bambang said. “We are even more interested now, because things are tightening in Malaysia now, we heard.
“Even cartoonists are being arrested. So we are concerned about our media colleagues here,” Bambang told The Malaysian Insider in a phone interview during a recent visit to Malaysia.
He was referring to cartoonist Zulkiflee Anwar Haque, better known as Zunar, who was arrested and currently faces 9 sedition charges over his tweets criticising the judiciary following former opposition leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim’s sodomy conviction in February.
Zunar is among many opposition leaders, activists and journalists who have been investigated or charged under the Sedition Act since last year.
Five editors from The Malaysian Insider were also detained in late March over a report on the implementation of hudud law in Kelantan.
“All this reminds us of Indonesia under the time of Suharto,” Bambang said. He described the interest shown in Najib’s lifestyle as deja vu for the popular magazine.
“That news was very hot at that time, and it was started by the Malaysian press,” he said.
“But it’s of great interest to Indonesia because we are neighbours and also because of the proximity of the issue; we have been there before,” he said.
He also said that Zahrain’s reported attempt to meet Tempo editors over the Najib article possibly did not reach the higher management.
“I have not heard any follow-up to that. Maybe it was handled by the editor without it reaching very high up in the organisation,” he added.
Tempo was started in 1971 but was banned during Suharto’s rule after being cited as a threat to national stability.
Suharto, who ruled Indonesia for 31 years before he resigned following mass protests known as reformasi, was widely known as a dictator who clamped down on freedom of speech during his military-backed reign.