Dayaks’ dilemma after Taib


For all his perceived shortcomings, Chief Minister Taib Mahmud and his uncle before him understood the Dayak community and was protective of them

Winston Way, FMT

Speculations are rife that Sarawak Chief Minister Taib Mahmud will retire this month.

Several political observers here believe that Sarawak Governor Abang Mohammad Salahuddin’s tenure which was extended only until Feb 28 is an indication that Taib will replace him soon.

Reports quoting sources claimed that Taib had attended a high level meeting with a delegation from his ruling party Parti Pesaka Bumiputera Bersatu (PBB) in December, and indications were that he would be stepping down after 32 years as CM, and assuming the role of Head of State.

If this is true then Taib will be following in the footsteps of his uncle Abdul Rahman Ya’kub, who ascended into the Sarawak’s governor post after handing over the chief ministership to his nephew back in 1981.

Taib’s chief political secretary Abdullah Saidol has however dismissed such speculations.

But the potential and inevitable transition of power once Taib pulls himself out of the picture has left many parties in Sarawak anxious.

The question of who will succeed Taib is now a big concern, particularly among the Dayaks.

Whilst on one hand, the Dayaks would gladly say ‘good riddance’ to Taib, there is also growing concern as to what will happen to Sarawak’s largest native grouping.

Sarawak is ruled by minority Malay-Melanaus. Taib is Melanau.

The Dayaks, numbering approximately 1.5 million and comprising Ibans, Bidayuh and the various Orang Ulu groups, are still largely behind the Chinese and the Malay-Melanau-Kedayan communities in many crucial areas.

They are far behind economically, socially, education-wise and in politics. Till today the Dayaks lead a fragmented and unstable existence.

Sabah’s a frightening reminder

Dayaks have historically been identified as a complacent community preferring to develop at their own pace.

And Taib, despite his many perceived shortcomings, understood this and has been protective of the community. He has remained a ‘father figure’ to the community.

And now that his retirement is seemingly imminent, the community’s fears are coming to front.

Looming before them is the threat of heavier federal control and the entry of Umno.

Umno’s track record of messing-up is all too visible for Sarawakians. Sabah which shares its borders with Sarawak is a living testimony of Umno’s destructive ways.

Sabah used to have a majority Kadazandusun Murut (KDM) native ethnic community before the ascent of Umno.

But with Umno’s entry and Malayan-based political influences infiltrating Sabah, the racial fabric in the state tilted.

Before Umno’s entry, KDM-majority parties such as Parti Bersatu Sabah (PBS) and Upko used to have political dominance. But their control ended in 1994.

Since then Umno has been in power in Sabah and their policies have successfully turned the Christian majority KDM communities into a minority and Muslim immigrants from neighbouring Philippines and Indonesia into the majority.

Umno is the obvious bogeyman for the Dayaks. The Dayaks don’t want Umno in Sarawak. Under Taib, Sarawak has remained safe from Umno’s clutches.