Joe Fernandez has written a bleak realpolitik piece in Malaysiakini on the iron grip that Taib Mahmud has over Sarawak. He referred to the statement by Anwar Ibrahim that Sarawak Chief Minister Abdul Taib Mahmud has overstayed his welcome. Read the full article in Malaysiakini here.
Fernandez wrote: The fact that this call didn’t come from people that matter in Sarawak is a big political mistake and Taib’s inner circle led by his predecessor and uncle Abdul Rahman, if not the man himself, must be laughing their heads off. However for how long is anybody’s guess. Rahman was once fond of privately telling opponents especially Malay and Dayak rebels, to deter and lure them into his clutches, that his family has enough wealth to last seven generations without working and would equal and exceed the Gandhi dynasty in India in their grip of Sarawakian politics.
Besides, the Taib family has any number of political lobbyists in Kuala Lumpur to not only 'keep an eye' on the federal government but 'keep them in check'. This is like the proverbial tail wagging the dog.Taib is not the only person to cling tightly to public office, but he shows crucial differences.He became chief minister in 1981 at about the same time as Mahathir became prime minister and had him “demoted” to the post of federal territory minister in the federal cabinet. Mahathir left after 22 years even if his detractors believed he would die in office. He continues to snipe at his successors.
Anwar ratcheted up the stakes by pledging that all government and government-initiated development projects in the state would be either reviewed, scrapped or audited once he wrests the reins of power in Putrajaya come Sept 16, Malaysia Day, no less a revolution of sorts in slow motion towards much needed reformation. This evolution in thinking does away with questions over the morality, or otherwise, of political defections across party and government lines.
Anwar is not after Taib’s head for no reason although there are suspicions that he wants to force the latter to ditch his traditional support prematurely for whoever is in Kuala Lumpur and make peace with him on reasonable terms. Taib is an eternal survivor in politics and can be expected to do this in his own time. The others around him are waiting dutifully like robots for a cue from him. He has all of them picking from his hand. If Taib tells them to go or follow him, they will.
The infamous Sarawak parochialism is also at work here as they juggle to “keep the devils in Kuala Lumpur “ at bay from their beloved state of reluctant participants in the federation. Never has a state been so completely insulated from the rest of the nation.
Meanwhile, this is like a chicken-and-egg situation. Does Anwar get Taib’s support first and then become prime minister or does he become prime minister first and then get Taib’s support? The latter course might be fraught with all sorts of uncertain risks for Taib especially as he faces state elections as early as next year.
Fernandez added: To be sure there are serious issues in the Sarawak of the once feared and famous Dayak tribes, camouflaged by the close links between the powers-that-be and the mainstream media, the virtual absence of the alternative media and low literacy rates, especially among the legendary head-hunting Iban who form the biggest grouping in the state.
The Iban have this childlike notion planted in their heads that “the government is our father and mother who takes care of us” and voting for the opposition, an unthinkable idea, is like going against our father and mother. Although the Dayaks, the Iban included, form the majority community in the state, they remain at the bottom of the heap, reduced to being drawers of water and hewers of wood for others, lacking any direction as a community. Surely, these are the original “lost tribes” rooted in inertia.
Fernandez wrote further: Ironically, all four chief ministers since independence on Aug 31 1963 have been Dayaks. Stephen Kalong Ningkan the first, was followed by Penghulu Tawi Sli, Abdul Rahman Yaakub and incumbent and nephew Taib. Both Rahman and Taib come from the small Melanau Dayak community in Mukah who number less a little over 100,000 i.e. Muslims, Christians and Pagans included.
The Melanau, especially the Muslims, are often accused of having a foot in both the Malay and Dayak communities in much the same way as the Indian Muslims.
The other Dayak communities are the Bidayuh in the Kuching and Serian Divisions and the Orang Ulu – Kayan, Kenyah, Kelabit – followed by the Lun Bawang, Penan, Punan and Kedayan in the Miri and nearby Divisions.
Taib’s stranglehold on power is hardly the result of the voters backing him but more by default since the Opposition in the state has never been united and organized as they are elsewhere in Malaysia. In the absence of the alternative media, the Dayaks can even be persuaded by the powers-that-be to remain ever loyal against their own interests.
Will the political tsunami hit Sarawak?
Most observers point to the Dayak disarray as the key to Taib and BN's hold on power. The other is the innate reticence of Sarawakians toward any Semenanjung leadership. Whether Anwar and Pakatan can overcome these 2 major factors remains to be seen.