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Sunday, August 29, 2010

Taib’s quit talk 'sandiwara': The next Sarawak CM a woman?


Wong Choon Mei, Malaysia Chronicle

Despite offering to relinquish his position, controversial Sarawak Chief Minister Taib Mahmud is actually digging in and has begun drumming up support from his coalition mates to counter pressure from a federal government worried about his escalating corruption scandals.

There is also red-hot speculation that he has made up his mind to pick as his successor Tanjong Manis MP Norah Abdul Rahman, his cousin and the daughter of Taib’s predecessor Tun Abdul Rahman Yakub. If so, Norah would be both Sarawak's and Malaysia’s first woman Chief Minister.

Norah Abdul Rahman
“Every other day, one of his colleagues comes out in the local media calling for him to stay. One day, it is James Maseng, another it is Alfred Jabu and so on. One of them even said there should be a Taib “clone” because he is irreplaceable,” PKR chief of Sarawak Baru Bian told Malaysia Chronicle.

“But the fact is Taib is not ready to leave yet. How can he when there is so much evidence piling against him for corruption and what-not, how would he dare to step down? On this basis, he won’t call for elections until all the bad news about him cools down. Even if he is gung-ho, Kuala Lumpur may object, although of course he may not listen to them."

Corruption scandals

Indeed, the flamboyant white-haired Taib is known for his fabulous wealth. His huge trademark emerald ring and cream-colored Rolls Royce were once the symbols of the alleged corruption his critics used to attack him for.

Baru Bian
But these are nothing compared to the latest revelations from theSarawak Report, an online magazine dedicated to exposing his misdeeds. Intricate details have been uncovered about his sprawling overseas business connections and where he has invested his wealth. Several large Sarawakian firms have also been pinpointed for gifting him with special deals such as a US$7 million mansion for only US$1.

Pictures of his palatial homes around the world, furnished even more luxuriously than many Royal households, have been posted on the website and are gawked at by Sarawakians and also Malaysians in the rest of the country.

For these reasons, Prime Minister Najib Razak may be keen for the 74-year old Taib to step. So far, despite the mounting evidence and long string of complaints lodged with the police and Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission, the federal government has refused to investigate or take action against Taib.

“There is very little that Kuala Lumpur can do or dare to do against Taib. He has been Chief Minister for 29 years, so you can imagine how powerful he is. The most that Najib can try is to broker some sort of deal for Taib to step down but it may not satisfy the old man. Unless someone very close to him takes his place and protects him from any witch-hunt, he won’t take the chance,” Baru said.

Seat-warmer for Sulaiman

Sulaiman Taib
Earlier this month, Taib said he was ready to call it a day if the people no longer wanted him. His statement sparked a chain of speculation as to who would succeed him. Among names that were touted were Abang Johari Abang Openg, Abang Openg Abang Sapiee, Adenan Satem, Alfred Jabu Numpang and Awang Tengah Awang Ali.

Among the five, the front-liner is seen to be Abang Johari, the son of Sarawak’s first governor Abang Openg Abang Sapiee. He is also deputy president II of Taib’s Parti Pesaka Bumiputera Bersatu or PBB.

But there are others who believe Taib will choose Norah, as part of a pact made with his uncle Abdul Rahman to ensure that power remains within their family and the Melanau community. Norah is also seen as a seat-warmer for Taib's son Sulaiman, the Kota Samarahan MP and former deputy Tourism minister who has a notorious reputation for chasing after the high-life.

“There is much talk in Kuching that Tun Rahman's daughter Norah is to be the next Chief Minister of Sarawak – to guard the ‘rear butt’ of Taib against corruption charges and to ensure the continuity of his business empire when he steps down,” prominent Dayak rights activist Dr John Brian Anthony wrote in his blog.

The Taib's hidden opulence as exposed by Sarawak Report
Only people power can save Sarawak

If the speculation is right, then Norah would have to stand for a state seat in the 10th Sarawak elections which were last held in May 2006. Since the state assembly was convened two months later, this means Taib can officially delay polls till July 2011.

At the moment, most pundits believe the Sarawak elections will be held in November 2010, especially after Najib recently said he would have "heart-to-heart" talks with Taib over who should next lead the state. But even so, those familiar with Taib's style don't expect him to act until he is satisfied that conditions are to his personal advantage.

"That is Taib for you, he won't be doing you any favors. And that's why it is ridiculous to think that Kuala Lumpur can put pressure on him. Firstly, the federal government's own corruption credentials are in question. Najib also needs Taib to hold onto federal power, rather than Taib needs him to win Sarawak. After 3 decades, Taib has become an authority unto himself. The only way to dislodge him is through people power," said Baru.

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