Saturday, October 2, 2010

Taib the lone political dinosaur after Samy’s exit

COMMENT Sarawak Chief Minister Abdul Taib Mahmud is on the verge of claiming the dubious distinction of being the lone dinosaur in Malaysian politics. This follows the decision by MIC president S Samy Vellu to throw in the towel come January, that is, several months before his previously announced exit in August/September next year.

It appears that Samy Vellu is hedging his bets. He will step down in January as pledged this time if it looks like the general election is going to be held anytime soon. He would not want to go through another humiliation at the ballot box.

However, if the general election will only be held in another two years' time as one school of thought holds, Samy Vellu may well drag out his exit until August/September as initially planned or even later. He has previously broken all promises to quit. The fact that he didn’t put a quit date for January is telling. That shows that he’s still thinking whether to quit or wangle his way out again. Anything can happen between now and January. Even a week, they say, is a long time in politics.

In any case, whether Samy Vellu stays or goes is no longer of any consequence. Both MIC and Samy Vellu are history. Samy Vellu may well go in January. It really doesn’t matter one bit. Too little, too late.

With Samy Vellu out of the way, the spotlight will fall on Taib as the public marvels at his utter shamelessness in wanting to still cling on to office after three decades of squatting on the people. Already, Taib’s long stay in power has denied two generations the right to rule themselves.

Taib clinging on to power is no longer about the people but all about himself, his family, relatives and cronies. He will have a busy time at least until at least 2015, a year before the state election, to re-figure his business and political empire for him to rule from behind the scenes. By that time, he will be 79 years old. The next state election is due by the middle of next year.

Taib knows that he would fare even worse at the next state election vis-à-vis 2006 but in his words, he’s confident of returning to power yet again based purely on the 56 Bumiputera state seats. He seems to have written off the 15 Chinese state seats in a worst-case scenario. He’s reconciled to heading a purely Bumiputera government. This will be a dubious first in Malaysia.

Counting on Sarawak Malays

Taib’s confidence, despite widespread allegations of rampant corruption, stems from the belief that the Melanau, both Muslim and Christian, will not desert a fellow Melanau. He can count on the support of the Sarawak Malays who have long been persuaded that not to stick with Parti Pesaka Bumiputera Bersatu (PBB) is to risk losing the chief minister’s post and Muslim political control of Sarawak.

The overwhelmingly rural illiteracy-plagued Iban community, the largest in Sarawak, has yet to demonstrate any degree of political maturity so far. They can be expected to go along with the pemerintah (government or party in power). The naïve Ibans think that going against the “government” would be like going against their own “father and mother”, and hence unthinkable. The opposition parties are seen as traitors, trouble-makers, anti-national elements, big talkers, and as Taib has depicted them in recent days, big fat “liars for whom the government can do no right”.

Taib benefits hugely, in political terms, from the prevailing slave mind-set in Iban country. This is where the core of Taib’s political support resides. Taib, being a Melanau, also appeals to them as a fellow Dayak. It’s difficult to persuade them on his corruption, especially when he pawns them off with a fistful of ringgit, cheap moonshine and wild boar at every election.

The Sarawak Malays have been known to rebel before as in 1987. Dubbed the “Ming Court Affair”, after the hotel along Jalan Ampang in Kuala Lumpur, the majority of Sarawak state assemblymen gathered to vote Taib out. Unfortunately, they got Abdul Rahman Ya’kub – Taib’s predecessor and maternal uncle – to lead them and he tipped off his nephew who quickly dissolved the state assembly for snap polls.

The Ibans and Sarawak Malays, besides the Melanau and Chinese, came to Taib’s rescue and the plotters were either left in the political cold for many years or eliminated one by one “for their treachery”.

Poetic justice

Taib can no longer take the Bidayuh and Orang Ulu for granted. This is where he’s going to lose seats besides the Chinese areas. Some Malay areas may go as well if Taib doesn’t win them by razor-thin margins.

All in all, Taib can count himself extremely lucky if he can still manage a two-thirds majority in the state assembly but no one is betting on this as yet.

The opposition alliance, Pakatan Rakyat, has already made an unprecedented promise to the electorate, that is, to return all land stolen by “the politicians, the state government and big companies from Peninsular Malaysia” to the people.

The second promise is to trace and return the ill-gotten gains of the politicians “to the public treasury”. This would be a massive undertaking involving forensic accounting, Interpol, foreign governments and the United Nations. The role of the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission can be discounted.

The third promise is to return political autonomy to Sarawak as pledged under the 1963 Malaysia Agreement.

It would be interesting to see how Taib manages to cope with the opposition onslaught.

So far, he has had a relatively easy time until 2006, winning by default in the absence of an organised opposition. The last outing was just for starters. Henceforth, it’s going to get increasingly tougher for Taib. Eventually, like Samy Vellu, he will not go out in a good way but in disgrace. That would be poetic justice!


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