|Taib Mahmud’s long goodbye would be the best thing to happen to the opposition in Sarawak, for the BN will be further whittled down in Parliament.|
It’s almost certain that the guessing game is over. Sarawak Chief Minister Abdul Taib Mahmud, 75, will step down from office after the next general election, expected by mid-2013 at the very latest. He has no intention of hanging around for the next state election in 2016. That’s the word from his inner circle.
There are three reasons for the long goodbye.
Firstly, Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak needs Taib to help finance the general election in Sarawak at least, if not in Peninsular Malaysia as well.
Without his considerable financial support, Najib would be at the mercy of former prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad who is also itching to decide when the next general election should be held. Mahathir’s war chest is ready and he has the Umno supreme council in his pocket. He can match de facto PKR chief Anwar Ibrahim ringgit-for-ringgit. Mahathir needs to recoup all the money that he lost backing Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, Najib’s predecessor, in 2008. Mahathir also wants to further position his children in politics.
Between his wife Rosmah Mansor and himself, Najib probably has more than a few ringgit salted away for a rainy day. But he’s known to be extremely tight-fisted. Besides, why use one’s own money when that of others is available for the taking! That would probably include brother Nazri who heads the CIMB Banking Group.
Najib can also turn to former finance minister Daim Zainuddin, now no fan of Mahathir, for campaign finance. But Daim, like Mahathir, would want his pound of flesh as well. Daim has most of his business interests overseas and away from the meddling petty jealousies that routinely wreck Malay businesses in the country.
Among Taib, Mahathir and Daim, Najib would prefer the Sarawak strongman who obviously needs him to cover his back and his exit. Najib is part of Taib’s overall exit strategy judging from Rosmah’s reportedly frequent private visits to Sarawak.
Mahathir had nothing but ill-disguised contempt for Taib and to show it had the latter demoted to Federal Territory minister upon taking over as prime minister in 1981. It was a brief spell since Taib took over as chief minister from his maternal uncle Abdul Rahman Ya’kub. The deal had been arranged by Mahathir’s predecessor Hussein Onn after the Sarawak United People’s Party (SUPP) threatened to quit the Barisan Nasional (BN) if Rahman was not replaced.
Secondly, Taib’s needs the time between now and the next outing to the ballot box to call in long overdue favours and recoup his numerous interests and considerable shareholdings held under various nominees in Sarawak.
He has already advised the big companies concerned, according to the political grapevine, that he’s definitely leaving office this time and wants cold cash in return for his stake. He’s not hanging around to be governor either, according to what he told the companies when asked, and therefore needs to divest his holdings. The story is that he will be going into voluntary exile since a future in Sarawak could be fraught with all sorts of frightening and dangerous possibilities.
Unlike Rahman who apparently stopped thinking about money all the time after his first RM 7 billion, Taib couldn’t help himself once he got started and went far beyond this line in the sand.
The companies are not too happy either since none of them have the kind of cold cash to buy up Taib’s stake. This means that either they have to sell some assets at a considerable loss, being in a great hurry, or turn them over to Taib as payment in kind in lieu of cash. One company did exactly that and turned over one of its California properties to him, according to The Sarawak Report website, for a token US$1.
Thirdly, Taib needs all the time that he has now left to iron out the question of who would succeed him to protect him from certain criminal prosecution for technical offences, abuse of power and corruption during his three decades in office. Once the government files are opened and their secrets revealed, Taib would have no choice but to scurry for cover or flee abroad if still in the country. This would happen if Taib doesn’t get a chance to name his successor.
However, as the fate of global terrorist number one Osama bin Laden shows, no place on Earth would be safe for Taib and flight becomes no better option than fight.
Legally, in a fashion of sorts, Taib has the right to name his successor. Najib cannot intervene in the state matter although all the reports suggest that he would insist that Abang Johari Openg, a Malay, be named chief minister. Johari is at the moment deputy president II in Taib’s Pesaka Bumiputera Bersatu (PBB) while Alfred Jabu Anak Numpang is deputy president 1. Jabu, by right, is Johari’s senior and by-passing him in favour of the latter would be seen as humiliating the Dayaks, the Ibans in particular.
That doesn’t augur too well in Dayak country. At least Taib, being a Melanau, is a Dayak. But a Malay chief minister in Sarawak would certainly confirm to the rural electorate, after nearly half a century of two Muslim chief ministers, that Putrajaya is all about ketuanan Melayu (Malay supremacy) Umno.
While Taib is preoccupied with the three reasons for his long good-bye, a local NGO has threatened street demonstrations a la Egypt if he doesn’t step down as chief minister by Aug 13 this year. The deadline was apparently set last year by the Movement for Change Sarawak (MoCS). The NGO has also pledged to check on the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) at the end of every month, starting last month, over the progress being made in corruption investigations involving Taib.
The chief minister must be rolling on the floor with laughter. There is no file on Taib at the MACC. It’s unlikely that it would receive instructions from Najib to open one, much less commence investigations.
After drying his tears, Taib is likely to phone Najib and point out that given his two-thirds margin victory in the April 16 state election, any street demonstrations against him in Sarawak or elsewhere in Malaysia would be sedition. It would be no laughing matter when MoCS activists are hauled to court on sedition charges – easy to prove – and carted off to jail.
The difference between sedition and treason consists primarily in the subjective ultimate object of the violation to the public peace.
In law, sedition is overt conduct against the established order. Sedition also includes any commotion, though not aimed at direct and open violence against the laws.
It would be a different matter altogether if MoCS foments a revolution in Sarawak. In that case, the constitution stands automatically suspended and the government would have lost all legitimacy and moral authority. The revolutionary government can seize power.
MoCS had its best chance during the recent state election when it could have made a difference for the better by backing parties like the home-grown Sarawak National Party (SNAP) which provided the state with its first two chief ministers. Instead, it went on a tirade against SNAP and spread the PKR propaganda that the former would re-join the BN and that it had received election funds from the ruling coalition.
SNAP had hoped to take away the nine Dayak seats held by PBB and the four held by SUPP to bring about a new political equation in Sarawak. MoCS, by taking on SNAP, helped give a new lease of life to ketuanan Melayu Umno in Sarawak through the proxy PBB.
The MoCS, it’s learnt, is being backed by disgruntled Chinese businessmen in Sarawak wary of the stupendous fortune built up over the years by Taib, his family, relatives, cronies and friends. These businessmen were the same people who, for years, were happy Ali-Babas sabotaging the New Economic Policy (NEP) to thy kingdom come. They also looked the other way when the Chinese-based SUPP was in cahoots with PBB to reduce the Dayaks to a servant class working on land that they now no longer own.
In any case, why focus on Taib suddenly when he’s already on his way out, sooner rather than later? Besides, Taib’s long goodbye would be the best thing to happen to the opposition in Sarawak. BN will be further whittled down in Parliament come 2013.
Joe Fernandez FMT