Friday, January 29, 2010

Who will be Taib's successor?

Joseph Tawie
Friday, 29 January 2010 03:20

KUCHING – The triennial delegates conference of Parti Pesaka Bumiputera Bersatu (PBB) scheduled for March this year may be considered a tame affair electoral-wise. No key posts are expected to be challenged.

However, the event has also generated much interest not only among party members but the public as well. This is because there are indications that long-serving party president and Chief Minister Abdul Taib Mahmud may choose the occasion to announce a successor.

At least this is what some speculate. And many are hoping that this time, the talks will come true unlike in the past when the CM himself announced his possible successors only to 'chop' them off one after another in the end.

Taib, aged 74, looking frail after an operation, but still mentally alert, is believed to be looking for someone (more seriously now, perhaps) to lead the party which he has helmed since March 26, 1981, a period of about 29 years.

And what makes it more interesting is that whoever is to succeed him as the president of PBB is going to be the chief minister of Sarawak.

Disappeared into political oblivion

In the past, Taib has eyed a number of PBB leaders who could take over from him; names such as Bujang Haji Ulis, Abang Abu Bakar, Dr Sulaiman Daud, Effendi Norwawi and Adenan Satem comes to mind. But one after the other has disappeared into political oblivion.

It must have been an extremely long wait for them. The impatient ones rebelled and Taib sent them to the dustbin of political history (read Bujang Ulis and Abang Abu Bakar).

Since Parti Bumiputra and Parti Pesaka merged into Parti Pesaka Bumiputra Bersatu in January 1973, no one has ever challenged the president of the party. Except for two party elections in 1998 and 2005, there have never been any serious contests in the party.

In 1998, both Adenan and Abang Johari Tun Openg fought one another for the other post of deputy president (II) which was reserved for the Malay/Melanau section. In that bitter fight, Abang Johari with the support of Dayak members of the party won the race, against Adenan who was personally picked by Taib.

The defeated Adenan was then appointed by Taib as the senior vice-president of the party.

In 2005, Adenan tried once again to challenge Abang Johari, but the TDC was postponed after some of Adenan's supporters were found by Abang Johari's men to have allegedly duplicated branches in some 40 constituencies.

The matter was reported to the police and to the Registrar of Societies who advised them to re-run the election otherwise they might end up like PBDS.

Last term, last term?

Taib had reportedly said before the 2006 state election that he might still offer himself for the last term as chief minister in the coming state election that may be called between now and July next year.

And Taib's desire to step down is further strengthened when on Jan 10, 2009, at an SPDP annual general meeting in Sibu in a speech read by Deputy CM Dr George Chan, he had said that he was looking for someone regardless of race to be trained to take over from him.

The man supposedly to be picked by him must be trained from now to do the job, must be smart and sincere in the struggle to develop the state and raise the standard of living of the people.

Thus the March party elections which can be the last one for Taib have therefore triggered the rumour mill. Immediately coming into focus are a number of senior leaders such as Alfred Jabu, deputy president (I), Abang Johari, deputy president (II), Awang Tengah Ali Hassan, treasurer-general and even Taib's son, Sulaiman. Any one of them has been mentioned by members of the party as well as the public as Taib's possible successor.

No one can deny that Jabu has all the experience and expertise and he does not need to be trained now to take over the chief minister's post the way the policemen are trained for promotions for higher ranks.

A graduate in agriculture, Jabu has been tutored by two of Sarawak's best known politicians in the persons of Abdul Rahman Yakub and Abdul Taib Mahmud. Elected as state assemblyman for Layar in 1974, he has been appointed to hold various ministerial posts including deputy chief minister under Rahman and since March 1981 under Taib.

The popular Abang Johari

Another chief minister material is Abang Johari who holds an MBA degree from a British university. He has shown to be a very effective and capable minister. When Taib appointed him as industrial development minister, he was able to bring in billions of ringgit worth of foreign direct investments to the state. After he left and moved to the Tourism Ministry, the amount of FDI to Sarawak declined sharply.

But in the Tourism Ministry, he had once again proven to be a capable minister by turning it into a money-making machine earning billions of ringgit from tourists who came from Japan, Korea, China, Arab and European countries.

In another Cabinet reshuffle, Abang Johari was moved to the ailing Ministry of Housing and was shocked to find out that the ministry was nearly "bankrupt". There was no fund even to build a single house. And what he did was to meet his federal counterpart and discussed the problems. From their discussions, he was able to secure RM200 million to carry out housing projects for the people in the state.

Coming from an aristocratic family (his father Tun Abang Openg was the first governor of Sarawak), he seems to have won the trust and confidence of Taib after he (Taib) gave him an additional ministry – the Ministry of Urban Development to his current portfolio in a Cabinet reshuffle in November 2009. His upbringing has brought him into contacts with Malays, Ibans, Bidayuhs and Orang Ulus.

The son's political fortune

The next favourite is Taib's son Sulaiman who resigned recently as deputy federal minister of tourism. Although it was stated that he resigned due to health reasons, speculation is rife that his father wants him to return to the state and be "trained" to take over.

Political observers are closely watching Sulaiman in this coming party election and the post he is offering himself. The post he is going to hold will be a barometer to gauge his political fortune.

The next name mentioned is Awang Tengah Ali Hassan, senior vice-president (I) of the party and the Minister of Public Utilities and the Second Minister of Planning and Resource Management, who is considered the most powerful minister after Taib in the state Cabinet.

But Awang Tengah's alleged disadvantage is that the Dayak members of PBB and to some extent the Malays have little respect for him; in fact they are not happy with the way he, as second Minister of Planning and Resource Management, handles land matters especially the NCR land. Dayak votes in the party are critical to anyone who aspires to lead the party.

In the past months, Taib has also been seeking the views of the people close to him including some Dayak and Chinese ministers regarding his possible successor. But sources say that his ministers are divided on the issue; while one or two prefer Abang Johari, there are those who prefer Sulaiman.

The man Taib can trust

"Certainly, with the coming party elections, the public is interested to know who will be the man Taib is going to train to take over," said a veteran politician.

"A lot of things are at stake such as the Sarawak Corridor Renewal Energy (SCORE), the 12 dams that are going to be built, the aluminum plant and the infrastructures. All these are worth billions of ringgit.

"And there are accusations of corruption and nepotism that have been labeled against Taib on several occasions and the dominance of Sarawak's political elite including Taib's family in the logging industries, road construction, housing projects and NCR land oil palm plantations.

"And Taib must find someone who he can trust to undertake all these projects and to help protect his family's businesses," he said.

"But many put their bet on his son. Can he be the dark horse?" asked the political veteran, who at one time served under Taib Mahmud. - Malaysian Mirror

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