Sarawak is Taib country, even if Anwar rises
Joe Fernandez | Malaysiakini Aug 22, 08 1:25pm
The fact that this call didn’t come from people that matter in Sarawak is a big political mistake and Taib’s inner circle led by his predecessor and uncle Abdul Rahman, if not the man himself, must be laughing their heads off. However for how long is anybody’s guess.
Besides, the Taib family has any number of political lobbyists in Kuala Lumpur to not only 'keep an eye' on the federal government but 'keep them in check'. This is like the proverbial tail wagging the dog.
Taib is not the only person to cling tightly to public office, but he shows crucial differences.
He became chief minister in 1981 at about the same time as Mahathir became prime minister and had him “demoted” to the post of federal territory minister in the federal cabinet. Mahathir left after 22 years even if his detractors believed he would die in office. He continues to snipe at his successors.
Taib is still around, fending off one announced “successor” after another, denying two generations from taking office and possibly a third. “There is always unfinished business,” note political analysts in Kuching who snipe at Taib in their small blogs.
Anwar ratcheted up the stakes by pledging that all government and government-initiated development projects in the state would be either reviewed, scrapped or audited once he wrests the reins of power in Putra Jaya come Sept 16, Malaysia Day, no less a revolution of sorts in slow motion towards much needed reformation. This evolution in thinking does away with questions over the morality, or otherwise, of political defections across party and government lines.
Politics of development
The projects have long been under consideration, says Anwar, considering the virtual monopoly held by “cronies” and families with strong connections to a handful of the top BN (Barisan Nasional) politicians in the state. He left open the possibility that certain projects may in fact be scams under the guise of the politics of development, Taib’s favourite phrase.
This is like a double whammy. While identifying the Achilles heel in Sarawak’s body politic, he delivered a first blow to the solar plexus in the best James Bond style, the 007 License to Kill hero in Ian Fleming’s novels. So far, no one in Sarawak is taking the bait.
Anwar is not after Taib’s head for no reason although there are suspicions that he wants to force the latter to ditch his traditional support prematurely for whoever is in Kuala Lumpur and make peace with him on reasonable terms. Taib is an eternal survivor in politics and can be expected to do this in his own time. The others around him are waiting dutifully like robots for a cue from him. He has all of them picking from his hand. If Taib tells them to go or follow him, they will.
The infamous Sarawak parochialism is also at work here as they juggle to “keep the devils in Kuala Lumpur “ at bay from their beloved state of reluctant participants in the federation. Never has a state been so completely insulated from the rest of the nation. Meanwhile, this is like a chicken-and-egg situation. Does Anwar get Taib’s support first and then become prime minister or does he become prime minister first and then get Taib’s support? The latter course might be fraught with all sorts of uncertain risks for Taib especially as he faces state elections as early as next year.
To be sure there are serious issues in the Sarawak of the once feared and famous Dayak tribes, camouflaged by the close links between the powers-that-be and the mainstream media, the virtual absence of the alternative media and low literacy rates, especially among the legendary head-hunting Iban who form the biggest grouping in the state.
Ironically, all four chief ministers since independence on Aug 31 1963 have been Dayaks. Stephen Kalong Ningkan the first, was followed by Penghulu Tawi Sli, Abdul Rahman Yaakub and incumbent and nephew Taib.
The other Dayak communities are the Bidayuh in the Kuching and Serian Divisions and the Orang Ulu – Kayan, Kenyah, Kelabit – followed by the Lun Bawang, Penan, Punan and Kedayan in the Miri and nearby Divisions.
Taib’s stranglehold on power is hardly the result of the voters backing him but more by default since the Opposition in the state has never been united and rganized as they are elsewhere in Malaysia. In the absence of the alternative media, the Dayaks can even be persuaded by the powers-that-be to remain ever loyal against their own interests.
If anyone emerges to organise and lead the opposition for a democratisation process, “the father and mother theory” of politics and government of the Ibans and other Dayaks notwithstanding, Taib and his family will be soon be history and be expected to go into exile in their second home in Canada.
Otherwise, driving the whisky-loving and highly superstitious Taib - he who has numerous mystical rings on the fingers and a dozen bomoh-blessed hats - from the seat of power will remain a pipe-dream.
If the grim-reaper comes for him in the meantime, that will be a different matter.
There may be some hope here since Taib these days seem to be in a constant daze although he keeps up appearances and puts on a brave front. It is not clear that he is fully conscious and aware all the time. Will he have the strength and stamina for a tough, protracted political campaign in the next round?