Has Selangor MB Position Been Cursed?

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Ashraf Wahab, Malaysia Digest

COME March 23, the attention of the nation will be focused on Kajang for what should be a significant event in Malaysia’s political history.

Why a by-election would put the country’s population at the edge of their seats is well-known by now. It is because Kajang is a convenient political transit for Parliamentary Opposition Leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim to assume the coveted post of Selangor Menteri Besar (MB).

But perhaps if he paused and ponders on the accursed past of the MB seat, he may not be so keen.

The Fallen Selangor MBs

One would only have to review the history of the Selangor MB’s office to begin to realise that the position was never clear of scandals and controversies.

In April 1976, Dato’ Seri Harun Idris, the longest serving Selangor MB, had to resign from the office after he was charged with corruption and the abuse of state funds. He was eventually found guilty and was sentenced to six years in prison.

However in 1981, after serving three years in jail, he was released when he received a pardon from theYang-Di-Pertuan Agong on the advice of the then Prime Minister Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad. And this wasn’t the worse controversy to be tied to Harun. Although it has not been conclusively proven, many accused him of triggering the May 13 1969 racial riot that still haunts the nation to this very day.

Tan Sri Muhammad Haji Muhammad Taib (fondly known as Mat Taib) is another MB who was in the news for the wrong reasons.

He eloped with the Sultan of Selangor’s daughter, Tengku Puteri Zaharia Sultan Abdul Aziz Shah to Thailand, where they reportedly got married. They are now divorced.

In April 1997, he surprised the nation when he was forced to resign from the MB post. Not because he eloped with a daughter of a royalty but because he ‘eloped’ with significant amount of cash to Australia. He was charged in Australia over currency irregularities amounting to RM3.8 million. He was later however, found not guilty.

But Mat Taib’s resignation caused not one, but two by-elections.

Could the Kajang Move be a case of Déjà vu?

Tan Sri Abu Hassan Omar

Tan Sri Abu Hassan Omar

A seat-swapping took place where Tan Sri Abu Hassan Omar resigned from his Kuala Selangor parliamentary seat and contested at the Permatang DUN seat which was vacated by Jamaludin Adnan. Just like what is happening in Kajang right now, he suggested the opposition not to contest in order to save the public’s money.

The by-election allowed Abu Hassan to become the 12th Selangor MB. But in a series of twisted fate, three years later he too fall victim to the ‘Selangor MB curse’ when he was forced to step down from his post. This time it was due to an alleged sex scandal.

The successor to the seat, Datuk Seri Mohd Khir Toyo continued the ‘tradition’ as he also had not been a clean Selangor MB. But at least he didn’t have to resign. Under his stewardship, the ruling Selangor Barisan National government suffered one of its worst performances during the 2008 General Election.

Khir’s reign as Menteri Besar was marred with controversies such as the zero illegal squatters’ mission, Bukit Cahaya Reserve construction, and questionable irregularities by the Selangor State Development Corporation. After seeing a change of the Selangor government in 2008, what perhaps was his biggest blow was when he was convicted of graft and sentenced to prison in 2011.

At present time, Selangor MB Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim’s future seems to be uncertain. But it sure doesn’t look good for him. Although he is loved by the Selangor public and seen as a leader with high integrity and extra-ordinary competence in financial management – something unheard of before in Selangor – he is viewed as weak in his dealing with racial and religious issues.

The political power struggle and infighting between him and PKR Vice President, Azmin Ali has led us to ‘The Kajang Move’. It is largely believed by political pundits that Khalid will make way for Pakatan de factoleader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim to become MB if he wins the by-election.

And just when we thought he’s not as controversial as the others, suddenly came the news that a 7-year old girl was found dead after falling in the swimming pool of Khalid’s official residence during a Chinese New Year event. Police classified the case as sudden death.

Selangor: The Crown Jewel of Malaysia

What is up with all the tragedies surrounding the office of the Selangor MB?

Tan Sri Muhammad Haji Muhammad Taib

Tan Sri Muhammad Haji Muhammad Taib

When contacted by Malaysian Digest recently, Mat Taib had this to answer, “Selangor is the major state in Malaysia, both economically and politically. Furthermore, its proximity to the federal government means that anything that takes place here can become big news”.

He is right of course. Despite the controversies, no one can deny the prestige of holding the Selangor MB title and the luxury of running the state. “Selangor is the intellectual center of the country. It’s where everyone is drawn to,” he adds.

Dr Ooi Kee Beng, the Deputy Director at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies agrees with Mat Taib. “Not only is Selangor the richest state in Malaysia, it is where the most modernized segment of the Malay community is. During the events of May 13, 1969, Kuala Lumpur was a Chinese city, and places like Shah Alam and Putrajaya did not exist. Now, Malaysian Malay urbanity – and modernity – is based in Selangor. This makes the state the country’s most important battle ground among Malay leaders,” he said.

Ooi also further highlighted Selangor’s uniqueness , “The State is also host to the largest segment of domestic immigration. It is therefore a culturally chaotic place, cosmopolitan and open to all forms of contestations. The cultural changes and impulses are therefore fast-moving, pitting conservative against modern values”.

Mat Taib summed things up perfectly, “You control Selangor and you basically control Malaysia”. The statement is again echoed by Ooi, “Selangor decides the tone of the country’s governance to a larger extent than what Penang or Johor can do. The MB of Selangor therefore, carries a great responsibility. His main task is to enforce good governance in general. Meaning rule of law must be seen to be upheld and the status of the legal system enhanced. Tolerance must be encouraged since the state is a vibrant and diverse place, and he must understand his role as model for leadership in the country.”