Abdul Taib Mahmud
Taib, aged 74, looking frail after an operation, but still mentally alert, is said to be looking for someone to lead the party which he has helmed since 26 March 1981, a period of about 29 years. And what makes it more interesting and exciting is that whoever is to succeed him as the president of PBB is going to be the Chief Minister of Sarawak.
In the past Taib has eyed a number of PBB leaders who should take over from him; names such as Bujang Haji Ulis, Abang Abu Bakar, Dr. Sulaiman Daud, Effendi Norwawi and Adenan Satem are still fresh on the minds of the members. But one after the other of them has disappeared into political oblivion.
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 elections in the party.
In 1998, both Adenan and Abang Johari Tun Openg fought one another for the other post of deputy president (II) reserved for the Malay/Melanau section. In that bitter fight Abang Johari with the support of the 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 redo the election otherwise they might end up like PBDS.
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 10 January 2009 at an SPDP annual general meeting in Sibu in a speech read by 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 in motion. Immediately coming into focus are a number of senior leaders such as Alfred Jabu Anak Numpang, deputy president (I), Abang Johari bin Tun Openg, 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 (pic above) has been tutored by two of Sarawak’s greatest 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.
Another chief minister material is Abang Johari who holds a 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 was once again proved to be a capable minister by turning it into a machine making money 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 his problems. From their discussions, he was able to secure RM200 million to carry out people’s housing projects 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 next favourite is Taib’s son Sulaiman who resigned recently as deputy 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 to 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, they are those who prefer Sulaiman.
“Certainly with the coming party elections, the public are 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 was once time served under Taib Mahmud.- The Broken Shield