January 25, 2012
Can wily veteran Taib Mahmud outwit the Umno 'immortals' in the game of political charades?
KUCHING: Chief Minister Taib Mahmud’s absence from Sarawak United People’s Party’s (SUPP) Chinese New Year open house on Monday has further fuelled speculations of “Putrajaya’s hand” in Sarawak.
This is the second time that Taib has excused himself from a SUPP function organised by “agents of Putrajaya”.
He sent his deputy Alfred Jabu Numpang in his place. Also present at the open house was acting Yang di-Pertua Negeri Asfia Awang Nassar and scores of other VIPs.
Last December, he sent Abang Johari Tun Openg, Pesaka Bumiptera Bersatu (PBB) deputy president, to attend the party’s controversy-ridden triennial delegates conference (TDC), which was opened by Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak. Taib is PBB president.
The TDC also saw the election of federal minister Peter Chin as the party’s new president.
Chin’s last-minute decision to contest the presidency had apparently come about on the advice of Najib – much to the consternation of the party’s former deputy secretary-genetal Wong Soon Koh who had expected to assume the position uncontested.
Wong is a senior minister in Taib’s administration. Chin is the Energy, Green Technology and Water Minister in Najib’s Cabinet.
Chin had reportedly “never” shown an interest in the state leadership position until very recently.
The Chin-Wong war is seen here as a covert battle between Taib and Najib.
It is common knowledge here that Umno wants to gain a foothold in Sarawak, with or without Taib’s support.
Umno ‘immortals’ eyeing Sarawak
Umno ‘immortals’ eyeing Sarawak
In the run-up to the Sarawak state election last April, Najib had publicly pressured Taib to step down and many saw this as a sign of disrespect for the veteran politician who had always delivered “the goods” to Umno.
But in recent months it has become increasingly obvious that a sense of urgency and desperation has set in Putrajaya.
Said political analyst Peter Minos, who is also PBB’s information chief: “The federal Barisan Nasional is very keen on Sarawak.”
Although BN won the state election, it suffered historic losses to the opposition.
The “Umno immortals” believe that Taib is old and weak and they need to come into Sarawak and “win over” the fence-sitters.
But wily Taib has his own plan and is playing Najib’s political charade.
Reports of “irreconcilable” differences between Chin and Wong’s factions are getting stronger by the day.
Taib’s absence for the second time has lent credence to these rumours.
Taib’s excuse for not attending the open house was his “age”.
“I am getting older now. I can’t assert myself too much. Besides, Jabu is doing that for me (at the SUPP open house),” he told reporters.
But Taib’s excuse, however, was far from convincing since he reportedly visited the homes of several other prominent local Chinese leaders and businessmen.
Wong has Taib’s support
What is now clear to SUPP supporters is that Taib is on Wong’s side in the party.
When asked, several guests attending the open house said that it was obvious that Taib had a hand in the party’s crisis and that he is backing Wong.
Said one SUPP leaders who declined to be named: “I have the feeling that SUPP is likely to be deregistered and that Wong and his six other elected representatives are likely to join the BN club formed by the five former leaders of Sarawak Progressive Democratic Party (SPDP).
“It will be sad if the 52-year-old party is to be deregistered.”
He was referring to the Registrar of Societies’ (ROS) investigation into complaints of irregularities in the branch-level party polls in the run-up to the TDC last December.
Prior to the TDC, Wong and his team had lodged a report with ROS on the issue.
Despite ROS’ ongoing investigation, the party leadership went ahead and held the TDC.
Wong and his team boycotted the TDC on the grounds that it was illegal. The ROS is still investigating the party.
With the boycott, Wong forfeited his right to contest the presidency. On Wong’s team are MP for Sibu, Tiong Thai King, and five state elected representatives – Lee Kim Shin (Senadin), Ranom Mina (Opar), Jerip Susil (Bengoh), Francis Harden (Simanggang) and Johnichal Rayong (Engkilili).
Meanwhile, Chin, when asked about Taib’s absence, urged reporters not to speculate.
“We sent an invitation to the chief minister, but we were told he would be represented by Jabu.
“Whatever reason Taib has for not attending the open house this year, only he knows the answer, and as SUPP president, (I feel) it is all right that Taib chose not to come.
“After all, this is an open house for both the VIPs and the people. Taib’s absence does not reflect anything,” he added.