By Joe Fernandez
The Sarawak BN meet, scheduled for this weekend in Kuching, has reportedly set up four arduous tasks for itself as a decision is about to be made on whether to go for snap polls.
“These tasks are to consider four major themes for the forthcoming state elections,” confirmed a key Pesaka Bumiputera Bersatu (PBB) polls strategist last night.
The first of these tasks is to strategise on the polls theme that Sarawak needs to be administered by homegrown parties and “not those imported from Peninsular Malaysia”.
This follows the growing perception that the Chinese for example, given a choice between George Chan and Lim Kit Siang, would opt for the latter, concedes the strategist. Lim has made steady inroads in Sarawak with his DAP. His running mate, Karpal Singh, is also a household name among Sarawak Chinese.
Chan meanwhile is bogged down by accusations that he has overstayed his welcome at the old guards-ridden Sarawak United People’s Party (SUPP) as party leader despite solemn promises that he would step down at the end of 2008. He has a daughter married to a son of Sarawak Chief Minister Abdul Taib Mahmud.
Chan (left) himself is telling the party faithful – in keeping with the state BN theme – that “the opposition is out to destroy the BN parties and create chaos in the state”. This is seen as an excuse for him to stay on and break his promise to quit his party post. He has pledged to “finish off the opposition” in Sarawak for good.
“The people of Sarawak don’t need change and renewal as proposed by the opposition,” said Sibuti MP Ahmad Lai Bujang, likewise among those who test marketed the theme recently in Miri. “The people have been enjoying change and development under the BN state government.”
Taib an ‘extraordinary CEO’
Ahmad’s take is that the opposition parties need not come to Sarawak because the states under their administration are going nowhere under their direction. This is a claim Sarawak BN intends to flog with a vengeance in the next state elections, according to him, invoking visions of a dog-eat-dog fight ahead.
According to a PBB strategist, the second task is to come up with ways to convince the electorate – the urban and Chinese in particular – that Taib is an extraordinary chief executive officer.
Hence, now is not the time to change the state government “as the global, regional and national economic situation is still uncertain”, goes the disingenuous polls theme.
The third task, admits the PBB strategist, is to re-invent the “politics of development” theme which Taib has been flogging, amidst increasing disbelief and cynicism, for the last three decades and more.
While the strategist doesn’t admit it, the theme has run out of currency in the face of re-current reports detailing Taib’s massive abuse of public office for private gain and personal profit as large numbers in Sarawak keeping slipping below the poverty line.
The picture of grinding poverty and Taib’s personal family fortune are not the only concerns besetting the politics of development and making it that much more difficult to re-invent it.
The meet would have to consider opposition charges that there’s an incredible and ever-growing chasm in Sarawak between the super-duper rich like Taib and the rest of the herd.
Succession: Jabu as seat warmer
The final task, concedes the PBB strategist, is to convince the electorate that Taib has no plans to set up a dynastic line of succession in Sarawak.
His maternal uncle, Abdul Rahman Ya’kub (right in photo) was chief minister before him but for only 10 years after SUPP apparently prevailed on then prime minister Hussein Onn to remove him. Ever since then, Taib has been wary of offending SUPP.
Rahman’s plan, disclosed by PBB key insiders, is to install his daughter and Tanjung Manis MP Norah Abdul Rahman (below) as chief minister after Taib’s current deputy Alfred Jabu as interim chief minister. It remains to be seen whether Norah contests in a state seat soon, or more likely, contests “unopposed” in a by-election just before Jabu steps down as chief minister.
The state BN meet itself this weekend may be delayed if the ailing Taib, still in uncertain remission from a bout with colon cancer, begs off for a little while longer. His PBB has been going through a five-day grueling retreat which ends tomorrow and this appears to have taken a toll on his energy, health and spirits, according to insiders.
The snap polls theory has taken credence after Taib had a hurried unscheduled meeting with Prime Minister Najib Razak last week.
Najib, it is reliably learnt, confirmed that he would loathe to go for an early general election. The news from Najib was Taib’s worst nightmares coming true.
The Sarawak chief minister, who has to call state polls by the middle of next year at the very latest, had hoped to seek refuge in a general election to protect himself better from a widely anticipated mauling at the hands of the increasingly better-organised opposition.
If the state election were to be held today, the BN is expected to lose 20 to 24 seats, according to forecasts made by Sarawak Progressive Democratic Party (SPDP) rebels in the wake of a parliamentary by-election in Sibu on May 16.
Panic mode since Sibu defeat
Taib went into panic mode after Sibu when SUPP wrested defeat from the jaws of victory after 28 years.
The Sarawak strongman, who has been in office an unprecedented 30-odd years, saw the face of an opposition that he had never seen before on the campaign trail and was visibly taken aback in public appearances.
He has been throwing tantrums ever since then at his office, according to some consultants who had made arrangements recently for some top company bigwigs to meet him. The visitors, some of whom have met him before, found him in a foul mood and pre-occupied during the meeting.
“We are preparing for snap state elections,” goes a text message from Sarawak PKR chief Baru Bian, tipped to be the next opposition chief minister. “We anticipate state elections in September or October in the wake of the Taib/Najib meet last week.”
Baru, a land rights activist and lawyer, would be watching keenly to see whether the state BN “moves on the ground in significant numbers after the PBB retreat and the state BN meet”.