Election mood looms in Sarawak

  • Nation
  • Wednesday, 16 Mar 2011

The Sarawak State Legislative Assembly is likely to be dissolved on March 26 with nominations on April 8 and polling on April 16 – and the Chief Minister is upbeat about it all.

OF late, Tan Sri Taib Mahmud’s official website has a video charting his years as Sarawak Chief Minister.

The rather unimaginative video is played to the theme song from the musical Cats and the most interesting part of it is how well Taib has aged. He looked as slim and stylish now as he did then, and there is always that winning smile.

The video hails him as “a guiding star” and “a true leader who knows the way of the people, shows the way to the people but more important goes all the way for the people.”

On March 28, Taib will mark his 30th year as Sarawak’s “guiding star”.

But Taib, now 74, may not have the satisfaction of celebrating 30 years as Chief Minister because the State Legislative Assembly is likely to be dissolved on March 26 – two days short of the date.

Highly-placed sources in the state government said the top guns of the four Barisan Nasional component parties had reached a consensus on the date for the state election.

Nomination is said to be on April 8, and polling on April 16.

Sarawakians will go to the polls on a Saturday as Taib had promised several months ago.

Taib is also scheduled to perform the umrah on March 20, which means he will probably seek an audience with the Governor a day or two after his return from Mecca.

He had spoken about finding inspiration for the polls last November, upon returning from the Haj. It looks like the umrah will be his final inspirational journey before he seeks a new mandate from the people.

In that sense, the joint visit of the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister this Saturday will be a sort of pre-election rally, a signal that the Federal Government wants Sarawak on board.

Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak is confident of his support in Sarawak. His 1Malaysia concept is going down well in Sarawak because its multi-culturalism is more real than anywhere else in the country. And Taib deserves much of the credit for that.

Najib’s roadshow will be coming to town. He and Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin will arrive in Kuching on Friday evening in preparation for a packed programme on Saturday.

The last few months of preparation is about to come down to the wire.

Those around Taib insist that he has been in good spirits, confident and calm about the battle ahead. But the coming polls will be the most challenging of his career.

The DAP is poised to make more gains in the urban areas and among some natives discontented with land and cost of living issues. These mean that Taib cannot take anything for granted. The forces against him have never been more organised, be it the relentless attacks in the explosive Sarawak Report website or the ambitious Opposition front.

Last week, DAP leaders from the peninsula were attending political dinners in most of the major towns and tweeting about the robust attendance. The focus of the Sarawak polls will be the battle for the Chinese vote. The future of SUPP, the Chinese component of Sarawak Barisan, is on the line.

There has been much talk that Taib will outline a succession plan in order to defuse the Opposition campaign line that he has overstayed.

But political insiders have dismissed the speculation, saying that it is simply not Taib’s style to succumb to that kind of pressure.

They say his pride would not allow that and besides, he has done his groundwork and he knows he is going to win, plus or minus a few seats.

But insiders suggest that Taib has indicated to the Prime Minister that this will be his last term. He is after all 74 and a cancer survivor. The tacit understanding is that it is Taib’s prerogative to decide on his exit plan after the polls and his Pesaka Bumiputra Bersatu (PBB) party will decide on the choice of a successor. Nobody is going to push him off the stage because he still holds all the cards.

But Taib’s status in the Barisan set-up is quite unique because of his stature and delivery record.

Putrajaya wants to see political renewal in Sarawak but it is also depending on Taib’s prestige to maintain Sarawak as Barisan’s fixed deposit.

Taib’s elder son Sulaiman Abdul Rahman, who is Kota Samarahan MP, appears to have fallen out of favour. Sulaiman has not been seen in Kuching for months and was apparently not present when his father remarried earlier this year.

It is said that Taib was not exactly averse to the idea of his younger son Mahmud Abu Bekir contesting in the polls. If he is thinking of retirement, he would want a linkman in the government whom he can trust implicitly.

But Mahmud’s prospect was das-hed last week after his first wife Shanaz Majid filed for divorce, claiming RM400mil in assets.

Taib is at the crossroads of his political career. He has a lot of baggage after so many years but he remains a very powerful warlord even if he is going into his last battle.

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