Sleepless in Sarawak


(Aliran) Whichever way you look at it, the political outlook does not appear rosy for Taib and the other component BN party leaders who are so dependent on his patronage, writes Abang Benet.

It was not meant to happen this way. After all, the government media’s script for elections in Sarawak is that it’s the BN’s ‘fixed deposit’, the parliamentary vote-bank that delivers again and again and again, come rain or shine, through thick and thin.

And just to make sure that this re-occurred as per the official script, PM Najib Abdul Razak, DPM Muhyiddin Yassin, CM Abdul Taib Mahmud and other BN ministers openly abused public resources and poured millions of ringgit of public funds into the by-election. Even the Methodist Church in Sibu, despite their supposed embrace of ‘Christian’ values, unashamedly pocketed a ‘badly timed’ mega-handout! It was a vulgar and unabashed display of electoral bribery. The Sibu contest was little more than a ‘buy’ election.

Except that the Sibu voters (and especially those from the urban Chinese community) had other ideas. And notwithstanding the Election Commission’s shenanigans of delaying the result in a failed attempt – if DAP’s Lim Kit Siang is to be believed – to cook the results, the voters handed the seat to DAP/PR’s Wong Ho Leng by a wafer-thin margin of 398 votes.

Loss a major blow

The loss was a major blow for the BN. Not only was the defeat a slap in the PM’s face but it also thwarted Najib’s not-so-secret plan of holding snap general elections had the BN emerged victorious. The BN’s loss of Sibu, hitherto a SUPP/BN bastion, only threw a major spanner in the works for Najib, who now has to continue governing the country like the lame duck, flip-flop PM that he is; without any personal mandate from the electorate and at the mercy of a fractious and increasingly right-wing Umno/BN.

Similarly, it was a big blow to Taib Mahmud’s stature as the strongman of Sarawak politics. After all, if anyone loves electoral clean sweeps, it is Taib who has always prided himself on being able to win (nearly) all seats contested in any Sarawak election. It was bad enough that he had to play second-fiddle to Najib during the by-election in his own state. But to lose?!? Well, that was a bitter pill.

Losing his grip?

Hence, is Taib losing his iron grip over Sarawak?  Some like Prof. James Chin of Monash University Malaysia noted that losing Sibu only showcased the increasingly widespread public perception that Taib has overstayed his welcome and should go. Not only are urban Chinese voters fed up with Taib, they are also tired of SUPP’s ageing leadership, the hypocrisy within the party, their self-serving attitude and the party’s inability to renew itself let alone represent general Chinese interests within the BN.

Unfortunately, after three decades of near feudal governance of the state with a weak and fractured opposition, Taib and his coterie of BN political hanger-ons are just plain blind to this view.

Regardless, even if Taib did want to step down, the interlocking nature of politics and business in Malaysia means that there is a real possibility that Taib, his extended family, relatives and corporate associates stand to lose much if he did leave centre-stage – just like how his uncle, former CM Abdul Rahman Yakub and his political hangers-on did after he retired.

To whom would he entrust the care and nurturing of companies closely associated with or directly linked to his extended family, relatives and business proxies like Cahya Mata Sarawak, Sarawak Cable, Putrajaya Perdana, Loh & Loh, Titanium, Quality Concrete, Kumpulan Construction, Kumpulan Parabena, Borsarmulu Resort, Majupun, Naim Cendera, Ta Ann, UBG, Hock Seng Lee, KKB Engineering, Sarawak Energy, Sarawak Plantations, Eksons Corporation, Dayang Enterprise, mLabs Systems, Sarawak Capital, Lanco, Achi, Saradu Plantation, Sanyan and Samling? (Note that this is only a shortlist! There is more and not only in Malaysia.)

And who is going to bury forever major ‘corporate mistakes’ like 1st Silicon, Sarawak Medichem, and Sarawak International Medical Centre? And who is going to ensure that public finance excesses involving numerous state infrastructure projects and state land allocation to plantation companies, political supporters and business associates remain buried deep within the state civil service files?

The ostensible ‘lack’ of any ‘capable’ successor within PBB to take over as CM is clearly hampering Taib’s ‘succession’ plans even if he wants to go. His son, Sulaiman Abdul Rahman Taib, recently bowed out of politics completely for ‘health’ reasons. Taib’s brother, Mohamad Ali Mahmud, who is the state assembly member for Muara Tuang, is politically inactive. His niece, Norah Abdul Rahman, is a junior parliamentarian and may yet play a major leadership role at some stage in Sarawak’s future. But for now, despite the presence of various other long-serving PBB leaders like Abang Johari, Adenan Satem, Awang Tengah, Alfred Jabu and Effendi Nawawi, neither Taib Mahmud nor the PBB membership has been able to identify a successor. Hence, for now, there is no transition planning within PBB/BN.

Read more at: