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Taib sees writing on wall, hedges bets

By Joe Fernandez
Tai b Mahmud
Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim may be more than right, for once, about “a wind of change” sweeping across Sarawak come the 13th general election. However, Chief Minister Taib Mahmud is the man who holds all the cards.

It’s clear that after having reduced Sarawak over three decades to the dubious distinction of being the second poorest in Malaysia – rich Sabah being the poorest – it’s an understatement to say that Taib has more than outstayed his welcome.

He has run out of time after 31 years in power and has lost the moral high ground in the process. Taib’s maternal uncle and predecessor, Abdul Rahman Ya’kub, squatted as well on the people but only for 10 years. He was chased into political oblivion by a 1980/81 Chinese revolt in government.

Yet wonders never cease.

Taib remains undeterred, deliberately it seems, and egged on by family, friends and cronies, continues to flog a double-edged sword on development and the opposition.

There’s method in Taib’s madness.

He hopes, and not at all vainly, that the crippling rate of illiteracy among his core Iban supporters will help his double-edged sword win the day against his political foes and keep him in power for at least a good 10 years or more, if not indefinitely, as he seeks a successor to cover his back when his day of reckoning comes.

In one fell swoop he dismisses the opposition as “cakap kosong” (empty talk) who cannot bring development to the people unlike his government.

The politics of development is Taib’s euphemism for making hay while the sun shines as he continues to be Putrajaya’s proxy in Sarawak.

He does this – making hay – by feathering his nest through development projects which are nothing more than elaborate scams for raiding and plundering the public treasury through a network of sycophants ever willing to be his nominees in what’s essentially abuse of power and criminal breach of trust.

Charmed life

If Taib remains out of reach of the long arm of the law, it’s because he lives a charmed life as long as he can deliver the 31 parliamentary seats in Sarawak, or at least most of them, to the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN).

However, that’s not all.

Taib is not that naïve, being no political novice.

He has seen the writing on the wall both for himself and Umno, his political master. This has nothing to do with the legions of bomohs – all multi-millionaires – who surround him with their mumbo-jumbo and hocus-pocus.

He has begun to quietly hedge his political bets to guard against the very serious possibility that Umno can fall from power by as early as the 13th general election.

The only way that Umno can prevent the possibility of Taib doing a number on it post-election is to cart him off to jail immediately on charges of corruption, economic sabotage, abuse of power and criminal breach of trust.

At the same time, to secure the parliamentary seats in Sarawak, it would have to enter the state and replace Taib’s Pesaka Bumiputera Bersatu (PBB). Such actions would not be out of the ordinary as evident from Umno being in Sabah since 1990.

If Taib gets even a whiff that his last days would be spent behind bars under Umno, he might seize the opportunity in a moment of desperation to unilaterally declare Sarawak’s independence from Malaysia and state his case at the United Nations Security Council about Putrajaya’s non-compliance of the 1963 Malaysia Agreement.

Even the Chinese, his bitter political foes now, would rally around him and hail him as a real hero. They would forget momentarily that he has in recent years been the single greatest reason why their businesses and economic opportunities have been shrinking rapidly by the day.

In an independent Sarawak, Taib cannot continue to squat on the Chinese. The community would be back in action to be politically relevant again as they go on to re-invent themselves.

The other Sarawakians would stand rock solid behind Taib.

Secret talks

Meanwhile, here’s how the calculations work out.

By the 13th general election, the 31 parliamentary seats are expected to be reduced to 24, but still a quite a sizeable chunk considering that BN would probably have just 75 parliamentary seats in Peninsular Malaysia and 19 in Sabah/Labuan for a total haul of 118 seats, or past the magical 112 seats in the 222-seat Parliament.

The Pakatan Rakyat is expected to take seven parliamentary seats in Sarawak, the Pakatan Plus (SAPP) three seats in Sabah and 90 seats in Peninsular Malaysia.

(The term “Pakatan Plus – SAPP or Sabah Progressive Party – was first introduced by DAP stalwart Lim Kit Siang during a public forum organised by Sabah DAP in late 2008.)

The State Reform Party (STAR) is expected to take at least four parliamentary seats in Sabah. If so, it may position itself to attract another five seats from BN parties in Sabah outside Umno.

The four STAR seats are likely to support Pakatan Plus in Parliament, as a second option, to form the federal government if the latter can entice at least eight crossovers from Sabah Umno, if not Umno in Peninsular Malaysia as well. Pakatan Plus needs only three crossovers from Sabah Umno if STAR gets its five crossovers.

If all this happens, Taib is likely to keep his options open and throw the weight of his 24 seats behind Pakatan Plus to buy political protection and prevent ending up behind bars and out of power.

He might even be engaged right now in secret talks with Anwar’s people judging by the fact that the opposition leader appears to be smiling too much like a Cheshire cat these days.

Taib will only defect from the BN once it becomes crystal clear that Umno in Peninsular Malaysia has fallen from power – the opposition reaching the magical 112 seats in Parliament – and not a moment before.

Again, the question is whether Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak wants to gamble on the odds and risk it all.

Expect trouble if Paktan comes in with very much less than its 100 seats. It’s inconceivable, of course, that the ruling BN would not come in with the magical 112 seats in Parliament.

Events, thereafter, would take on a life of their own. The smaller BN’s majority is in Parliament, the greater the possibility that the ruling party would fall from power any day.

If it does not fall immediately, Putrajaya would be most certainly held to ransom by Taib and even Jeffrey Kitingan whose four STAR seats can attract, again, another five parliamentary seats from Sabah BN parties outside Umno.

It’s high time that Putrajaya stopped paying lip service to what Jeffrey’s politics is all about. Jeffrey, unlike Taib – an imminent and present danger to Umno – cannot be carted off to jail. He’s not at the moment in BN and does not have any seats in Parliament.

As one immediate option, and to buy time, Najib could let Parliament go for the full five-year term and automatically expire itself and stand dissolved. In that case, the 13th general election has to be called within six months, not two months, that is, by October/November next year.

Taib would smell a rat long before that and would do whatever is necessary to protect himself and his political dynasty. He has definite options.

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