As deadline nears, Taib stays mum on state polls

By The Malaysian Insider

It has been a year when political pundits engaged in a guessing game of when the state election would likely be held — although the current term of the Sarawak state legislative assembly expires only in July next year.

But as the ruling Basian Nasional (BN) and the opposition geared for the widely anticipated polls, state BN chairman Tan Sri Abdul Taib Mahmud, who will mark his 30th anniversary as chief minister on March 26, next year, is keeping the inevitable date close to his chest.

The only hint Taib has given so far was that he had received the “inspiration” but stopped short of revealing the date when asked on the matter upon his return from pilgrimage in Mecca last month.

The four-party state coalition, he said, was also willing to accommodate any request from Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak to hold the state and general elections simultaneously, should there be a need.

“If Najib has the inspiration to hold the (general) election soon, it is probably better for both parties to synchronise it (with the state election),” said Taib, who supported the direct BN membership proposal as a possible answer to fielding a direct BN candidate in the coming polls.

He said such an approach would enable partyless Pelagus state assemblyman Larry Sng to remain in the BN when his political status became uncertain, following his sacking by Parti Rakyat Sarawak (PRS) due to insubordination. He stood under the PRS ticket in the 2006 state election.

At stake are 71 state constituencies, of which 63 seats are now held by the Sarawak BN, including 35 seats by its backbone Parti Pesaka Bumiputera Bersatu (PBB) led by Abdul Taib.

Sarawak United People’s Party (SUPP) initially held 11 seats but the official acceptance of BN-friendly Engkilili state assemblyman Dr Johnical Rayong Ngipa into the party and BN fold in October has increased its seats to 12, while PRS and Sarawak Progressive Democratic Party (SPDP) hold eight seats, respectively.

“The chief minister declared that I am a BN member during the BN pre-Council meeting (held a day before the last state assembly sitting) so now that I am accepted into the BN, I can do my work smoothly as people will no longer have doubts over my position,” said Johnical, who stood under the opposition Sarawak National Party (SNAP) ticket in the last state election but later declared himself an independent.

The remaining eight seats are with DAP, which has six, Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) one and one independent while at the parliamentary level, BN controls 30 out of the 31 seats, with DAP one.

However, in the aftermath of the BN’s failure to retain the Sibu parliamentary seat in the May 16 by-election, for which the opposition was blamed for employing new tactics to garner the voters’ support, the state assembly passed a motion for the state government to prepare and publish a White Paper.

In the three-cornered fight, DAP’s Wong Ho Leng, who is also Bukit Assek state assemblyman, secured 18,845 votes to win the seat by a 398-vote majority, defeating Robert Lau Hui Yew of SUPP, who polled 18,447 votes and independent candidate Narawi Haron, who only managed 232 votes and lost his deposit.

Asajaya state assemblyman Abdul Karim Hamzah, in his winding up speech after tabling the motion, said the proposed White Paper should be formulated by the state government as unhealthy trends had crept into the local political scene.

Touching on the issue, Abdul Taib said the White Paper could be implemented before or after the next state election as a preventive rather than a punitive measure or a political exercise.

“Sarawakians are known to be very friendly and peaceful people and such a document is necessary to prevent those from entering the state with ulterior motives,” he said.

Deputy Chief Minister Tan Sri Dr George Chan refuted concerns by certain quarters that the White Paper might be used by the authorities to restrict opposition leaders from entering Sarawak, saying it was not aimed at targeting anyone.

As the state tourism and heritage minister, he did not deny that wild allegations had been hurled, especially by irresponsible foreign non-governmental organisations, on the Penan issue and the timber industry, besides distorting facts to paint a wrong picture that the orang utan was endangered by the oil palm industry, in an effort to get the West to boycott the industry.

Investors, businessmen and bona fide tourists who were sincere in contributing towards the well-being of Sarawak and its people were always welcome, said Chan, who also holds the industrial development portfolio.

This year also marked a milestone for Sarawak when the impoundment of the Bakun hydro electric dam started on October 13, which will flood an area in Belaga district covering 69,500 hectares, almost the size of Singapore.