Taib meeting members of the press yesterday in Kuching. — Picture by Choo Choy May
KUCHING, April 13 — With three days before polling, all is not well within the Barisan Nasional (BN) camp in Sarawak — and it is down to one man’s stubbornness.
BN officials on the campaign trail say that Chief Minister Tan Sri Abdul Taib Mahmud’s reluctance to set an exit timetable, his unwillingness to accept that the ruling coalition is facing a tough challenge from the Opposition and reliance on people outside political circle, including a psychic, is a major headache in the home stretch before Saturday’s poll.
BN officials are particularly upset over Taib’s decision to refuse to accept that he has become a lightning rod for every negative about the ruling coalition in Sarawak.
“PM offering him a way out early was to help damage control and also give Taib the best way to set his own stage for standing down. But he has completely disregarded the interests of BN for his own interest,” a BN source told The Malaysian Insider, referring to Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s assurance of a quicker leadership change.
BN officials say there is no chance of losing the state but Taib’s continued stay will cost them more seats in the 71-seat assembly.
“He is not even campaigning effectively and with focus. This man’s reluctance to listen is going to hurt BN,” another source said.
Though BN officials are still confident that they will retain two-thirds control of the state, as many as 20 seats could fall to Pakatan Rakyat (PR).
In the 2006 state elections, the opposition only won seven seats.
A glowing performance by the Opposition could breathe new vigour into the coalition which has been stuttering of late and could scupper Najib’s plans to call for general elections this year.
Sarawak has long been seen as a very safe bet for BN because Taib has kept a tight rein on things and shut down any voices of dissent.
But disclosures over his family wealth and the effectiveness of the Internet and Radio Free Sarawak in raising questions about nepotism and cronyism has turned him into poisoned chalice this time around.
BN officials are also finding out that he has become their number 1 nemesis.
Taib has openly rebuffed the prime minister’s promise to step down quickly by citing the need to groom a successor despite being at the top for the past 30 years.
But the state’s longest-serving CM said last night he has a successor who has been groomed for the past two decades.
He did not name the person.
“Taib is looking for a safe passage out and wants a successor who can assure him that,” an Umno warlord told The Malaysian Insider.
“He also wants to put someone he can control just like Dr M when he picked Pak Lah,” the Umno man said, referring to Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad choosing Tun Abdullah Badawi to succeed him as prime minister in 2003.