KUCHING: In Sarawak, the highlight of 2011 was the “unravelling” of “godlike” Chief Minister Taib Mahmud and the exciting historic victory by the opposition in the state election.
Frankly, Taib has been the preoccupation of politicians, activists – both local and abroad – and the man-on-the street.
Why, one may ask, and we will say it is because Taib has over the last 30 years woven himself into the very fabric of Sarawakian lives in politics, trade and practices.
Observers here claim that Taib controls everything.
He has wielded his political clout muzzling local dissent, monopolising corporate Sarawak, and exuding uncharacteristic charm and fatherly “benevolence” at the longhouses littering the rural interior – wooing native Sarawakians into believing that he is “clean and corrupt-free” and that those accusing him are “evil” and not to be trusted.
The year 2011 saw Taib’s secrets exposed by a UK-based investigative portal Sarawak Report (SR) and its bold Radio Free Sarawak (RFM), with its broadcasts in local Iban dialect.
SR in collaboration with the Swiss-based Bruno Manser Fund (BMF) made shocking revelations of Taib and his family’s “unimaginable” wealth running into billions in US dollars across eight countries.
BMF alleged that Taib was corrupt and had pillaged and plundered the state since he came to power in 1981.
BMF has also released figures showing that Taib and his family held influential stakes worth US$1.46 billion in 330 companies in Sarawak and in 80 other companies globally.
In response, Taib simply said ” my children are clever”.
BMF has also pressured several countries to investigate Taib’s alleged money laundering and already probing Taib’s global links are Switzerland, Germany and Australia.
Here in Malaysia, there’s been increasing pressure for the authorities to investigate Taib.
Witches and gangsters
On the local front, opposition DAP, emboldened by its 13-seat victory in the April 16 state election, has been openly demanding for transparency over contracts awarded to Taib-linked companies in Sarawak.
According to the party, no major contract in Sarawak is without a Taib-linked company stamp.
During the April state election campaign, DAP – together with its Pakatan Rakyat allies PKR and PAS – had successfully highlighted the issues of corruption, power abuse, nepotism and cronyism allegedly committed by the state government.
Land grabs by the authorities, land rents, premiums, education, Chinese education and schools were also hot topics that eventually saw the thrashing of the Chinese-dominated Sarawak United People Party (SUPP) at the state polls.
Since winning the polls, Taib has tightened the noose on his own Pesaka Bumiputera Bersatu (PBB).
He has made it clear that his party can and will rule Sarawak with or without coalition members SUPP, Party Rakyat Sarawak (PRS) and Sarawak Progressive Democratic Party (SPDP).
In the run-up to the April 16 polls, Taib saw an unexpected spoiler in his cousin and former deputy education minister Salleh Jafaruddin.
Salleh, who stood against Taib in Balingian constituency, brought to light Taib’s fetish for bomohs and witches who “guided” his continued stay in power.
According to Salleh, Taib was notorious for consulting with black magic practitioners and after the death of his wife Laila Taib, his daughter Raziah had moved in to consolidate her influence with her father by introducing her own in-house female bomoh – a blonde named Stella – to him.
A SR report noted that Stella’s signature ritual included “tip-toeing and howling”.
“Each morning she (Stella) would cross the garden from Raziah’s house to the ground of Taib’s residence and would perform a ritual of chasing away evil spirits before the chief minister rose for his early run!”
Salleh also spoke of Taib’s conniving mind and his bevy of “gangsters” who cast a shadow of fear over Balingian in the run-up to the April 16 state election, which Taib eventually won.
Taib’s majority, however, was far less than in 2004 as was Barisan Nasional’s overall support in Sarawak.
Worry for Najib
In the end, Taib and his PBB delivered to Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak 100 percent on the seats they contested.
SUPP lost 13 (including Piasau held by its president Dr George Chan) of the 19 seats contested while PRS and SPDP lost one and two seats respectively.
SUPP’s poor showing was also its own making – the internal bickering that had been going since 2004 parliamentary election, and had worsened in the 2006 state election during which SUPP lost six Chinese seats to the opposition.
Despite the clear warning from the Chinese community, SUPP’s power struggle went out of control. It seeped into all the 43 branches of the party and deeply divided the party into factions, all wanting control over the party because control means more government contracts, business opportunities, ministerial positions and directorships of government-linked companies.
Nonetheless, Taib’s BN retained 56 seats in the 72-seat State Legislative Assembly, enough to put Umno in its place and shut up Najib and his deputy Muhyddin Yassin.
Umno, Najib and Muhyiddin had insulted Taib by infiltrating PBB and in the days before the state polls, descending in droves on Sarawak as “saviours”, believing that the old embattled man was a goner and would not deliver the votes that Umno desperately needed.
Just hours after the Election Commission announced the results and at around 10.45pm on April 16, Taib got the governor to hastily swear him in as the chief minister for an unprecedented eighth time, thus deflecting any real or perceived attempts to usurp him.
Now there was no way Najib, Muhyiddin and their spies within PBB could touch him.
A victorious and emboldened Taib is, however, now a cause for more headaches to Najib and Umno, which is facing an imminent death-defying polls.
Taib tightens hold
Taib’s next step was to consolidate his and PBB’s supremacy within his party and within the coalition.
Since the April 16 polls, allegations of sabotage by BN leaders within the coalition have been rife.
More precisely, rumours are that Taib is the “hidden hand” in the crisis within SPDP, SUPP and, to some extent, in PRS. (But an alert PRS president James Masing has been consistently reminding his members of unity and loyalty.) A weak SPDP, PRS and SUPP will make PBB appear strong.
The five elected representatives, known as “SPDP 5”, are allegedly PBB spies and SUPP’s seven elected representatives – who reported the party to the Registrar of Societies for irregularities in the party branch-level elections – are said to have Taib’s blessings.
The SUPP seven also boycotted the party’s recent triennial delegates meeting and alleged that newly-elected president Peter Chin (who is said to have Najib’s support) and his team were “illegal” entities.
Compounding this “hidden hand” rumour is the latest state Cabinet reshuffle in which Taib placed his own PBB men in powerful ministries, pushing SPDP president William Mawan and Masing into near exile.
Touted as chief minister-in-waiting Awang Tengah Ali Hassan was assigned three portfolios – Second Resource Planning and Environment Minister, Industrial Development Minister and Public Utilities Minister; while Abang Johari Tun Openg was given two – Tourism and Housing Ministries. Minister with Special Functions Adenan Satem was also made the Minister in the Chief Minister’s Office, thus holding two portfolios.
Even Assistant Ministers from PBB are now more powerful than Mawan and Masing.
Newly-elected assemblyman Len Talif Salleh was appointed to two offices. He is Assistant Minister of Environment, and Assistant Minister in the Chief Minister’s Office in charge of Technical Education.
Naroden Majais received two appointments. He is Assistant Minister of Resource Planning and Assistant Minister of Bumiputera Entrepreneur Development.
Only PBB can save BN
Also with two ministries to handle is Julaihi Narawi. Julaihi is the Assistant Minister of Rural Development and Assistant Minster of Industrial Development (Investment and Promotion).
Mawan, who once held two portfolios, saw his ministries merged into one Ministry of Social Development.
Like Mawan, Masing retained his Land Development Ministry but with little power and no budget allocation.
For the first time in 30 years, Sarawak has no Deputy Chief Minsters. Instead, it has three senior Ministers – Wong Soon Koh (SUPP), Masing and Mawan.
Strolling into 2012, Taib is preparing himself and PBB for the 13th parliamentary polls.
If bickering within SPDP continues into 2012, it would undermine the party’s chances in four parliamentary seats – Mas Gading, Saratok, Baram and Bintulu.
SUPP, it is widely felt, will not be able to ready itself for the polls.
Of particular concern to the BN leadership are the six Chinese majority constituencies of Stampin, Bandar Kuching, Lanang, Sibu, Sarikei and Miri. DAP currently holds Bandar Kuching and Sibu.
Still, looking ahead, the 2012 general election, when it happens, will see PBB and Taib emerge winners with the support of BN-direct candidates.
BN, as an entity, was registered in 1974 and could now probably offer partyless representatives a lifeline.
Waiting in the wings are probably the five representatives from SPDP: Peter Nansian (Tasik Biru), Tiki Lafe (MP-Mas Gading), Rosey Yunus (Bekenu), Paulus Gumbang (Batu Danau) and Sylvester Enteri (Marudi).
Also facing an uncertain future are SUPP’s six elected representatives comprising Ranum Mina (Opar), Jerip Susil (Bengoh), Lee Kim Shin (Senadin), Francis Harden (Simanggang), Johnichal Rayong (Engkilili) and Wong Soon Koh (Bawang Assan).
elected representatives can find a safe haven in BN – and provide enough power, when the time comes, to broker a deal with any group in the aftermath of the general election.