15 Apr 2019 (New Straits Times Online) April 17 is a date to watch. It is on this Wednesday that 196 million of our Indonesian neighbours pick a president, among others, in what the latest issue of The Economist describes as “likely to be the biggest single day of voting in human history”.
Incumbent Joko Widodo faces Prabowo Subianto just as it happened in 2014. Both the candidates will look to Malaysia where the largest number of overseas Indonesian voters live.
But this is not the only connection between the Nusantara neighbours.
No, this Leader is not about elections.
We shall leave that to the always erring soothsayers and sometimes blundering political analysts. After all, polls come and go every five years in our two countries. So do candidates.
This Leader is about something deeper — rumpun root and other profound connections. The batik analogy is a good place to start. Many Leaders ago, we wrote about how the word batik — a combo really of two similars — the Javanese amba and Malaysia’s titik meet at the confluence of the two neighbour nations to signify “drawing with a dot” — the “draw” of amba and “dot” of titik.
The batik analogy is made real every day in the streets of Jakarta and Kuala Lumpur, so to speak.
Take palm oil. Indonesia is the world’s largest producer of palm oil, and Malaysia a neighbourly second. Both are facing a common challenge: a European Union ban.
It is heartening to note our two countries’ united stand in fighting the discriminatory EU regulation. We are heartened, too, that this common fight against a bullying other is an old one.
Readers may recall that in November 2015, at the Asean Summit, Malaysia and Indonesia each contributed an initial US$5 million to establish the Council of Palm Oil Producing Countries (CPOPC) as a common platform to promote palm oil and neutralise trade barriers.
There is a much older story as well: how Malaysia’s national oil company, Petronas, took a leaf or two out of the book of Indonesia’s national oil company, Pertamina.
Then, Pertamina was producing 1.5 million barrels per day.
All Petronas could show in the early years of 1974 were barrels buried in the seabed, so to speak. It learnt about production sharing contracts and the ins and outs of how to manage the Seven Sisters from its older brother across the South China Sea.
Petronas had to because the founding fathers were all government servants. It wasn’t easy to manage a Shell or an Esso, especially when you know very little about oil molecules.
Pertamina had tamed them earlier. Though established in August 1968, it had an older vintage — December 1957 — through Permina.
We — Indonesia and Malaysia — have been at this confluence many times before. The amba and titik of the batik did not begin our common history.
That story is much older, and reaches into a time more ancient.
The April 17 election somehow triggers this old memory. With apologies to T.S. Eliot, footfalls echo in the memory towards a door that remains open.
We should open the door more often.