Jakarta (ANTARA News) - Former Indonesian president BJ Habibie`s recent visit to Malaysia as an official guest of the Selangor State Government to deliver a speech on democracy, has angered a former Malaysian information minister.

Following the visit, the ex-minister, Zainuddin Maidin, wrote an editorial in the Utusan Malaysia daily where he called Habibie a "traitor to his nation" and compared him to top Malaysian opposition figure Anwar Ibrahim. He also called them both "dogs of imperialism".

After reading the insulting editorial, Habibie just smiled, Habibie`s secretary Rubijanto told Merdeka.com, on Tuesday (Dec 11).

Habibie, the founder of the Association of Indonesian Muslim Intellectuals (ICMI), on the Habibie Center`s Twitter account later wrote: "when s`one insults u, take it as a compliment that they spend so much time thinking abt u, when u don`t even think abt them".

Executive Director of the Habibie Center Rahimah Abdulrahim, said that Habibie did not want to hinder others to have different perspective. "This is quite `funny`, but Habibie does not take it seriously," Abdulrahim said.

A number of people believed that the provocative article of Zainuddin, a politician of the United Malay Nationalist Organisation (UMNO) which leads the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition, was motivated by the domestic political problems in Malaysia.

The neighboring country is expected to hold its 13th General Election in 2013. The ruling coalition, composed of the dominant UMNO, the Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA), and the Malaysian Indian Congress (MIC), as well as several smaller parties, will face the People`s Alliance (Pakatan Rakyat), comprising the People`s Justice Party (PKR) led by former Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim, the Democratic Action Party (DAP) and the Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS).

Habibie and Anwar Ibrahim are known to have close ties. When Habibie was president, Anwar visited Jakarta for several times. He visited Jakarta again on November 28, 2012 to attend the celebration of The Habibie Center`s 13th Anniversary. He praised Habibie by saying that despite his very short presidential term, Habibie has brought significant changes in Indonesia.

Commenting on the insulting editorial, Anwar on his Twitter account called Zainuddin "mediocre" and blasted his writing as "arrogant" and "representative of the UMNO elites` prejudices against the neighbor [Indonesia]."

Ilham Akbar Habibie, a son of Habibie, commented that Zainuddin`s statement bore political contexts as Malaysia faced general election. Moreover, Habibie visited Malaysia in December 5, upon the invitation of the University of Selangor. Yet, in that occasion he met People`s Justice Party leaders.

"Implicitly, it (his visit -Ed) strengthened Anwar`s position," Ilham said as quoted by Republika online.

BJ Habibie in his lecture entitled "Habibie and Indonesia`s Transition to Democracy" at the University of Selangor on December 6 said when he took over the presidency from Suharto, he felt responsible to restore democracy in Indonesia by removing constraints and the first thing he did was releasing political prisoners.

"Those who are against the Indonesian government cannot be put in jail as it is for criminals who endanger society," he said as quoted by Bernama news agency of Malaysia.

The Selangor Government expressed its disappointment, and described Zainuddin`s editorial as "rude and showed immaturity as well as disrespect towards a leader who has contributed significantly to his country and to the region in the political world and in the field of aeronautical engineering."

The Selangor Government is urging Utusan Malaysia and Zainuddin to apologise to Habibie as well as the people of Indonesia before the issue becomes worse, Selangorku.com wrote on December 13, 2012.

"Such statements are detrimental towards the strong bilateral ties between Malaysia and Indonesia as well as the people of both countries. We would like to stress that Zainuddin`s writings do not represent the stance of the people of Malaysia," said Chief Minister, Tan Sri Abdul Khalid Ibrahim.

Zainuddin`s insult also triggered reactions from Indonesian politicians.

Aisyah Aminy, a senior politician of the United Development Party (PPP), urged Foreign Affairs Minister Marty Natalegawa to send a letter of protest to the Malaysian authorities and called the Malaysian ambassador to Indonesia to convey the protest.

Aisyah, a former legislator, said Zainudin`s statement was wrong, since during his presidential term Habibie had created 71 laws serving as a foundation for Indonesia`s reform process, which assisted in its becoming a democratic country.

Indonesia`s House of Representatives (DPR) Chairman Marzuki Alie said he has written to the Malaysian government to raise an objection to Zainuddin`s statements.

"The DPR has decided at its plenary meeting to write to the Malaysian government to take responsibility for the statements of its citizen which has the potential to create a conflict," he said in Jakarta on Thursday (Dec 13).

Meanwhile, a noted Indonesian historian, Anhar Gonggong, urged President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to strongly protest to Malaysia during his visit to Kuala Lumpur next week.

"If I were the president, I would have lodged a strong protest. Malaysia often looks down upon us and does not respect Indonesia," Gonggong, lecturer at the University of Indonesia (UI), told members of the media at the National Resilience (Lemhannas) office on Friday (Dec 14).

President Yudhoyono plans to visit Malaysia next week, which would be the correct moment to issue the protest to Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, he said.

Gonggong noted the rapes and other types of abuse Indonesian workers have been subjected to in Malaysia, as well as Malaysia`s claims over Indonesia`s cultural arts, as examples of Malaysia`s lack of respect shown towards Indonesia.

President Yudhoyono should indicate his feelings about such disrespectful behavior when he is in Malaysia, he suggested.

MP Puan Maharani, the chairwoman of the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) recently said it was essential that Jakarta not remain silent.

"As a nation and a people, we should not stay silent when Habibie is insulted by a former official of another government for domestic political purposes," she said.

Puan, the daughter of another former president, Megawati Sukarnoputri, said the need to condemn the insult through firm diplomacy was all the more pressing given that President Yudhoyono was scheduled to go on a state visit to Malaysia at the end of the month.

Earlier, Indonesia`s ruling Democratic Party chairman Anas Urbaningrum demanded that the former Malaysian minister apologize and learn some manners. He also slammed the use of the term "dog of imperialism" as racist.

"Just because there`s a political rivalry in that country, it could widen by insulting former President Habibie. This is very regrettable," Anas said. "The former Malaysian minister needs to be taught manners by his party," he said as quoted by the Jakarta Globe.

Republika online, meanwhile, quoted Minister Marty Natalegawa as saying that "We know it is his personal point of view, but we cannot accept the idea."

However, he said that Indonesia did not have to send protest note. The right solution is to directly state Indonesian objection to Malaysia`s government.

Marty also told media "That is obviously a silly view. I haven`t read the article and I`m not interested in reading it. I think we already have too many tasks to pay attention to a former minister from Malaysia."

A very strong reaction came from ICMI Chairman Nanat Fatah Natsir who called on President to postpone his planned visit to Malaysia.

"I strongly deplore Zainuddin Maidin`s criticism of former president BJ Habibie and have asked for him to withdraw his statements and offer an apology to the Indonesian people," Nanat said.

He pointed out that Maidin`s remarks were in contradiction to Indonesian history. "The process of democracy in Indonesia truly got under way during the Habibie administration," he added.

Deputy House Speaker Priyo Budi Santoso, who is also an ICMI member, also expressed strong disapproval, by stating "The UMNO official has lost his mind and knows nothing about our history."

"Everybody knows about Habibie`s outstanding contribution to the country. He implemented the new democratic system by among other things releasing political prisoners and sending the military back to barracks," Priyo stated.

He said Zainuddin`s remarks were "based solely on his understanding of Habibie`s close relationship with Anwar Ibrahim".


Reporter: Fardah
Editor: Jafar M Sidik
Copyright © ANTARA 2012