Taib Mahmud and his Pandora’s box

By Mariam Mokhtar

COMMENT Last month, Taib Mahmud left us wondering if he would really hand over the reins to someone else and not contest in the 10th state elections. Well, the teasing ended when Taib announced that he would continue to lead the state BN and state government.

As expected, many are disappointed. Only the most optimistic or easily deluded could have envisaged Taib in retirement. Hardened sceptics will be saying “I told you so”, for they were never convinced that someone who has clung onto power for 29 years, would abdicate.
Are people reassured by Taib’s decision or do they think it is a disaster? People with an interest in politics will see a fragile, old man who is nevertheless armed with an apparent gravitas and a killer instinct sharpened by years of political cunning and intrigue.

What will Taib’s leadership mean for those who are desperate for change and for the younger generation with alternative ideas?

Is Taib a man trapped by his certainties, his ‘old’ thinking and his lack of humility or will he change his political ways to appeal to the masses?

It will take more than just overblown promises and constant reassurances to redress 47 years of neglect. Many young Sarawakians have left the longhouses on their ‘bejalai’ (travelling long distances in search of jobs or adventure). They are more open-minded, are not averse to change and are not easily deceived.

Has Taib done his duty?

Recently, Taib gave us a few clues that he is the best man for the job – of leading the charge in the Sarawak election and in crucial preparations for the 13th General Election.

At Kuching airport, Taib addressed a crowd of 7,000 people including state cabinet ministers, assembly people, BN party supporters and non-governmental organisations: “As for me personally, no matter what happens, I will continue to help Sarawak.”

Then at an Aidifitri gathering in Sibu, he said, “Next, we will need people-oriented and sincere leaders with great vision for the future. We ought to be united, maintain our discipline and most important of all, we must not be mere spectators or commentators but active participants”.

Each of us has a duty to leave our world a better place than how we found it. Has Taib?

In his years as Chief Minister, he undeniably placed Sarawak on the map with eco-tourism, manufacturing and high technology industries. But his record is marred by reports of native customary land being exploited for logging, mining and plantation purposes. The wealth from the state’s natural resources has not been evenly divided across the socio-economic classes. There are serious allegations of corruption and money-laundering abroad, to cover-up ill-gotten gains. But these are only allegations.

The least publicised news are disconcerting: Forced displacement of the interior peoples; the unresolved rapes of the Penan women; the lack of basic amenities for the indigenous peoples. These marginalised people say their concerns have not been satisfactorily addressed. Can we afford to walk on by when we see injustice?

Is Taib able to ‘propel Sarawak to become the country’s richest state by 2030’ as he recently declared? Does his leadership mean that his party can expect victory at every future election? Will he make the Sibu townspeople regret that they voted for the opposition, which he alleges failed to solve the Sibu flood problem?

He had this to say about the opposition, “They are big liars, as they do not have any plan or programme at all.” He then praised his party, “In contrast, the government is quietly doing what it needs to do. It is getting things done as evidenced by the almost RM500 million it spends on flood mitigation projects.”

A veiled threat?

He then warned, “But if people support the opposition in the election, I fear they may worsen the problem.”

Is this a veiled threat to the electorate? Maybe all those promises made during the Sibu by-election have come to nought because Sibu rejected the BN candidate.

Rural and Regional Development Minister Shafie Apdal said recently, that all promises of development projects and financial allocations made by the Barisan leaders during the Sibu by-election would be fulfilled. What then is the current progress on Sibu’s flood mitigation project?

Will the Sarawak people continue to embrace Taib? Despite sending observers to the Hulu Selangor by-election to study what works and what doesn’t, Taib’s chosen candidate failed in Sibu. So what tactics will he adopt for the coming state elections?

Taib is no different from his ageing peers – Samy Vellu who refuses to budge and Mahathir who still pulls strings from behind the scenes, defying the current administration with his barbed comments and his endorsement of extremist groups.

Has Taib got what it takes to lead in Sarawak? He is afraid of no one, not even Putrajaya. He is ruthless and unprincipled. He is an opportunist who will maintain his grip on power, just like Samy Vellu and Mahathir.

Taib said, “We will need people-oriented and sincere leaders with great vision for the future.” However, his actions are denying a new generation of leaders the chance to inject new life into Sarawak.

Taib is sufficiently ruthless to remove those whom he disapproves of. Last month two Sarawak editors were removed from their positions because they wrote unflattering articles about him.

Perhaps it is not greed for power that prompted Taib’s decision. Perhaps Taib knows something we don’t and that the person he groomed to succeed him, is not quite ready.

Taib is aware that a weakling can easily be toppled. Moreover, the chosen sucessor may be relatively timid and unlike him, lacks the wile and cunning to protect Taib and his supporters from the expected onslaught.

Taib’s greatest fear is probably an investigation that could open up a Pandara’s box of controversy that won’t just implicate him but could also embarrass Putrajaya, though that is the lesser of his worries. In the final analysis, it is the Sarawakians who must decide if Taib’s leadership will pose a danger to the Sarawak economy and to society. – Malaysian Mirror

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