Victory not all that sweet
Analysis By Joceline Tan
Tan Sri Abdul Taib Mahmud was returned to power in the 10th Sarawak election but it was a bittersweet win because it came with unprecedented losses in the Iban and Chinese seats.
IT was not quite the perfect storm that some people had predicted but the Sarawak election is a signal that the political landscape in the state has shifted in a way that its leaders had not foreseen.
Chief Minister Tan Sri Abdul Taib Mahmud was returned to power with a two-thirds majority but his victory was punctured by unprecedented losses.
A total of 16 seats fell in the rural heartland where Barisan Nasional used to hold sway while Deputy Chief Minister and SUPP president Tan Sri Dr George Chan‘s 30-year political career came to a crunching halt.
Dr Chan’s stunning defeat by a young DAP lawyer topped the trail of losses of other SUPP candidates, leaving the party with a big question mark over its future.
Taib’s party PBB remained on top of the game, retaining all the 35 seats it contested.
But even before the night was out, it was evident that Sarawak’s politics would never be the same again.
Taib’s coalition crossed the two-thirds margin shortly after 6.30pm, by which time five seats were confirmed to have fallen to DAP and PKR.
Before that, tweets from opposition politicians claimed they were on the way to smashing the Barisan’s two-thirds majority.
A Perak leader tweeted that he had received a call to ask Pakatan Rakyat to get ready to form the Sarawak Government.
But it was one of those “Sept 16” claims.
However, there has been a Chinese tsunami of sorts in the urban centres where DAP took 12 of 15 seats contested.
The DAP was the big winner in Sarawak and scored astonishing victory margins in several seats.
DAP also made a clean sweep of all the seats it contested in the capital.
The Chinese in Kuching have made themselves heard loud and clear.
In fact, Dr Chan’s defeat was a metaphor of the Chinese rejection of SUPP which they see as too much of a yes-man to Taib.
But the earth-shattering reality for Taib and his government was the erosion of support in the rural Iban seats.
Barisan not only lost Iban-majority seats but saw its victory margins in other Iban seats slide to an all-time low.
Politics in the rural hinterland is no longer what it used to be.
The Iban support can no longer be taken for granted.
Ba’Kelalan fell to Baru Bian, the indigenous lawyer who has been such a thorn in the side of Taib’s administration.
PKR’s win in Ba’Kelalan was expected but the party’s win in Krian, another Iban seat, was a big blow because the defeated incumbent Datuk Peter Nyarok Entrie is the deputy president of SPDP, a Barisan component party.
DAP’s ceramah in Kuching, Miri and the central basin of Sibu, Sarikei and Lanang had drawn massive crowds night after night.
Their Ubah mascot, a cute soft toy in the form of the Sarawak hornbill, was sold out and every night, there were more and more people wearing the signature red T-shirts at their ceramah.
Their grand finale in Kuching was the biggest rally that local folk had ever seen and the opinion that night was the Chinese tsunami would reach the shore the next day.
It was not the da xuan or big change that the party was hoping for but it has been DAP’s most successful outing in Sarawak.
SUPP, the party that has represented Chinese interest all these years, will have to do a lot of soul-searching on how to recover and remain relevant.
Voter turnout has been quite low in the last few elections.
It was no different this time around despite the most intense electioneering in Sarawak history.
Some saw the low turnout as a form of silent protest.
The perception was while many voters did not want to vote for Barisan, they were also not keen on voting for the opposition DAP or PKR and definitely not for PAS which lost all the seats it contested.
This election has been all about Taib or Pa Mao the name by which he is known to all and sundry.
His 30 years in power, unfortunately, coincided with the ouster of Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak.
His overstaying became such an awkward issue for his coalition government that he could not even celebrate his three decades in power.
The results suggest that the power transition will definitely take place.
Taib may even have to bring forward his transition plan to perhaps next year when PBB, of which he is president, is scheduled to hold its party election.
Taib has seen how he was openly criticised and ridiculed throughout the campaign, something which had never happened in any state election.
There is no denying the groundswell and it is not only against him but also those around him who have overstayed their welcome.
The Iban change of heart is also a slap in the face for PBB deputy president Tan Sri Alfred Jabu who represents the indigenous Pesaka wing of the party.
Jabu, who won narrowly, is the only top leader of Taib’s generation who has yet to indicate whether he is making way after the polls. Regardless, he will be under great pressure to go after this.
In overstaying, Taib had given the basis for others to cling on. Those who have overstayed are what is known as the Ming Court generation, the group which came to power with Taib in the 1980s.
The signs of what would happen last night were already in the 2006 election and the Sibu by-election but those in power chose not see it.
The outcome in Sarawak is not exactly a disaster for Barisan but it spells trouble in time to come.
The political transition after this becomes more crucial than ever to Barisan’s hold on Sarawak.
How Taib handles the transition which will impact the coalition’s ambitions in the general election.
SUPP needs to rise from the ashes
The Chinese-based party then lost eight seats – six to DAP and one each to PKR and an independent.
The promised reforms included reorganising the party to rejuvenate itself, the setting up of branches in all 71 state constituencies to serve more people and spread its influence and limiting the terms of its ministers, deputy and assistant ministers, MPs and assemblymen.
Chou, who had expected SUPP to win about 10 seats, said the party lost out to the DAP which had an effective polls campaign and well-organised ceramah.
“The DAP speakers, especially those from the peninsula, were very convincing in their speeches which were backed by facts and figures. It was difficult for SUPP to rebut,” he said.
According to Hii, party infighting was a serious problem in SUPP and the people were losing confidence as it had failed to address its internal problems.
The recent much-publicised fight among its senior leaders over the formation of the party’s Dudong branch in Sibu dented its public image.
The party is yet to resolve internal squabbles in its Bintangor branch which have have been dragging on for more than a decade.
Aeria said that while the leaders were fighting among themselves, the Chinese were watching and pondering: “when is SUPP going to address our interests?”
To revive the party, Hii suggested that SUPP be inclusive and appoint community leaders such as penghulus, pemancas and kapitans from non-governmental organisations and non-party members as councillors for local authorities.
Chou said that SUPP’s immediate task was to restructure and carry out a renewal process by bringing in professionals and young blood.
“As the party has lost so badly, there must be something very wrong with its leaders and the organisation.”
Aeria said the party should groom young leaders and undergo a generational change to renew itself.
“I think the veteran politicians who lost in the polls should retire and leave with dignity,” he added.
Barisan has lost its fixed deposit, says DAP
He said DAP broke a record for having the most seats in Sarawak.
He said the votes garnered by the Opposition were very encouraging compared to the 2006 and 2008 elections.
”The people have spoken today that they believe there is hope for Sarawak achieving a clean and fair government for all, and a two-party system,” he said.
Who will step into Taib’s shoes?
Insight By Joceline Tan
The Sarawak election is over. Tan Sri Taib Mahmud has said he will retire and the transition is about to begin. The big question now is who will be the next Chief Minister of Sarawak.
THE venue was the newest hotel in Kuching and Tan Sri Taib Mahmud was just about to go into a closed-door meeting when he decided to make a toilet stop.
To everyone’s amazement, he suddenly jogged off in the direction of the men’s room along the red carpet which had been rolled out in his honour.
It was quite a sight to see the Chief Minister, in his business suit and tie, sprinting off as his bodyguards tried to keep up with him.
It was, apparently, the first time any of the Sarawak reporters had seen him do that. It was quite uncharacteristic behaviour for Taib, but these have been unusual times for Sarawakians.
Taib has virtually been cornered into declaring his retirement in the middle of the fiercest election that Sarawak has ever seen.
Not many people had believed him when he first talked about calling it quits a couple of months ago but he has repeated it so many times over the last one week that it has become quite believable.
Moreover, given the way his 30 years in power was parodied throughout the election campaign, there is no way he can refuse to go.
The big question now is who will take over?
Potential successors have come and gone. After all, Taib, who turns 75 next month, has been in power longer than even Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad.
But the succession has finally boiled down to three names – Datuk Awang Tengah Ali Hassan, Datuk Abang Johari Tun Abang Openg and Datuk Seri Adenan Satem.
But try approaching any of them to suggest that they could be a future Chief Minister and they look as if they want to run off faster than their Chief Minister had done in the hotel.
It seems that being identified as the future Chief Minister has been like some sort of kiss of death in the past, and none of the three want to be kissed that way. It is safer to keep one’s head low until things are clearer.
Just a couple of months ago, Taib had said that his retirement was delayed because he had not groomed a successor. Then earlier this week, he said he had identified a successor whom he had groomed for 20 years. Everyone’s mental calculator immediately switched on – 20 years in the grooming could mean either Awang Tengah, 55, or Abang Johari, 60.
Awang Tengah entered politics in 1987 whereas Abang Jo, as he is known, contested his first election in 1981.
The third man, Adenan, turned 67 in January and looks his age, unlike Taib who has been looking quite sprightly since marrying a beauty half his age.
Passing the baton to someone just three years short of 70 is not what one might call succession. But Adenan’s ratings went up after he was assigned to announce Barisan Nasional’s candidates before the election.
Taib has always taken charge of this important announcement but this year he walked out of the meeting room just before the press conference and left his lieutenants to deal with the media circus.
Some claimed he was peeved that Putrajaya had tweaked his original list and that names he had dropped had been reinstated.
One of those whose name had been dropped was an attractive lady called Simoi Peri.
When Taib entered the meeting room that afternoon, he had called out loudly, “Is Simoi here? Where is Simoi?”
It was said in a rather sarcastic tone and it was Taib’s way of saying, “I know how you got back in.”
Adenan is a rather polished man who speaks English as though it is his native tongue. He is the only one among the three who has served in both state and federal posts.
Unlike the other two, he does not hold a government post and is only the information chief of the ruling PBB party.
But he has something to his name that the others do not have – he used to be married to Taib’s younger sister. Family ties in politics would be known as nepotism anywhere else but it is quite rampant in Malaysian politics.
Some think that Taib would not mind a relative of sorts taking over and he could be what one Kuching-based editor calls an “interim chief minister”.
But speak to any Sarawak politician and the money seems to be on Awang Tengah, a tall and rather good-looking Second Minister of Resources Planning and Management. It is a key ministry, as the First Minister of the portfolio is none other than Taib.
He is also PBB’s senior vice-president I, a significant post in the party.
As a result, Awang Tengah has become widely known as Taib’s blue-eyed boy and has grown quite powerful over the years.
It is good to be loved by the boss, but there is an anti-Taib sentiment running through the state at the moment. That is what Awang Tengah may have to contend with in the months ahead.
He would be seen as too subservient to Taib, a yes-man rather than his own man. Ordinary citizens who want to see a genuine transition and real change in conduct of the business of government may not take well to it.
But with power being very seductive, even people who do not like you now can suddenly like you once you are up there, so Awang Tengah need not be overly worried.
The third candidate, Abang Jo, is neither in the good nor bad books of Taib. But he is definitely in the good books of many ordinary folk.
He has one of the best track records among the Sarawak ministers, is diligent and takes his work seriously.
His performance has impressed journalists, people who are in the best position to assess politicians. They talk about how he was “cold-storaged” after he contested the PBB deputy president post against the wishes of Taib.
In a cabinet reshuffle after that, he went from the important industrial development ministry to tourism.
Instead of sulking, he rolled up his sleeves and did well in his new portfolio. He has since been redeemed. He was appointed Housing Minister in 2004 where he again delivered. His portfolio was recently expanded to housing and urban development.
He is very result-driven and, more important, does not have much baggage to his name. Sarawak could do with more of this type of politician.
The Prime Minister has definitely noticed him. On Wednesday night, Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak, who was in Abang Jo’s Satok constituency, called him “brother Jo” throughout his speech. That was the first hint of his regard for his host.
The second hint was when Najib spoke of how “brother Jo” had come to see him for a RM65mil development project in Sarawak. He said it was a big request but he had told the Sarawak leader: “OK, Abang Jo, lulus (approved).”
Everyone in the audience thought: Wow, PM wants Abang Jo.
But the next day, Najib went to Lawas where it was Awang Tengah’s turn to play host. There was no “brother” thing going on with Awang Tengah but Najib was his usual civil self.
Najib is sending very mixed signals on his preference for Sarawak. The man is getting as hard to read as Dr Mahathir.
But the reality of Sarawak’s politics is that the next Chief Minister will be largely determined by the sitting Chief Minister.
He has been badly mauled but he is still very powerful and the people around him are terrified of him.
At the same time, the aura of invincibility around him has been shattered especially after the way he and his family were criticised so openly during the election. A point of no return has been reached in his long political career.
Those familiar with him say he would not want to stay on for long after what has happened. His concern would be to formulate an exit plan of his choosing and that would include picking a successor.
Party insiders say Taib had quietly called Adenan, Awang Tengah and Abang Johari for discussions and told them they must work together after he goes. He did not give any hint about whom he wanted but his desire was that these key leaders should accept whoever he picks and not mount a challenge for the party leadership. Like in Umno, whoever becomes president of PBB becomes Chief Minister.
The person who takes over will first have to be endorsed as PBB president.
Given this, many think the transition will be put in place by the middle of next year when PBB is scheduled to have its election.
But for PBB to stay cohesive, the man Taib anoints must also have the support of the party which comprises two wings – the indigenous Pesaka wing and the Muslim Bumiputra wing.
A president who is not well accepted by both wings would be a weak one and unable to hold the party together. And with the new political landscape unfolding in Sarawak, a weak PBB could mean trouble for the state Barisan.
Given that, Taib will have to listen to the sentiments in his party as well as that in Putrajaya.
His successor must also be someone who can help redeem the Barisan’s prestige especially among the Chinese and win back their confidence. The state Barisan cannot be stable without the Chinese support.
There are also some who think that Taib might be persuaded to accept the Governor’s post. The incumbent’s tenure will end in December.
But a close relative of Taib indicated that he would not be interested in occupying the Governor’s mansion even though it has a lovely view of the Sarawak River and the beautiful State Legislative Assembly.
Taib, according to the relative, would prefer to retire overseas where he can be free from public scrutiny.
The chief fear among many Sarawakians is that his successor would not share his courage on cultural and religious issues. This has been Taib’s strength through the years. Many Chinese, even while they were preparing to vote for DAP, were concerned that if Taib goes, his successor would not be as open-minded and as multi-cultural.
Taib, they noted, is the sort of leader who openly admits that he had studied Bible knowledge in school, is not afraid to enter a church and whose late father raised funds to build churches.
He even officiated at the opening of a Catholic church at the height of the election campaign. Which Muslim leader would have dared do that, let alone during an election? The church officials say he had even suggested they build a bigger church.
For all his faults, Taib stands head and shoulders above Muslim leaders in other states on the question of religion.
Sarawakians are against Umno coming in because of the religion factor. They saw Umno go into Sabah during the 1980s and blame the party for the “Umno-isation” of Sabah.
They look dimly upon Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim whom they see as the architect of Umno’s entry into Sabah. They are also highly suspicious of PAS. They equate PAS and Umno with the politicisation of religion.
In that sense, the next chief minister would have to take a strong stand on this. Had Taib gone off earlier, the choice of successor would have been completely his. But so much has changed in the last few months and he is now deciding from a much-weakened position.
But Taib, said Sarawak political expert Dr Jeniri Amir, should not be underestimated.
“It’s hard to predict his next move although he has said he is going. Even his ministers cannot predict what he will do,” said Dr Jeniri.
The way Taib defeated his uncle’s attempt to topple him back in the 1980s was the first hint of what a survivor he would turn out to be.
He is a first-class tactician.
But 30 years is a long time and Taib became too comfy in his ivory tower. That was why he did not sense the Chinese tsunami approaching even though the siren had sounded in the 2006 election. He is now paying the price for that.
An era is about to end. But he can still make it up by choosing someone whom the people really want and who can deliver what Sarawak needs to progress. That way, Sarawakians will remember him in a better light.
Utusan tells BN to ignore Chinese vote after Sarawak polls
KUALA LUMPUR, April 17 — Utusan Malaysia has told Barisan Nasional (BN) to ignore the Chinese community for not supporting the ruling coalition during yesterday’s Sarawak elections.
BN’s Sarawak United People’s Party (SUPP) lost more than two-thirds of the 19 seats it contested in a snub by the tiny but vociferous China commuity.
In its weekend edition Mingguan Malaysia, columnist Awang Selamat stressed that re-elected Sarawak chief minister Tan Sri Taib Mahmud’s new cabinet will reflect the “reality of the ballot box.”
“The average Chinese voters have rejected BN and supported DAP. Therefore the BN state government can no longer be too generous to give place to representatives from the community. Sarawak cabinet must be reflective of the decisions and attitude of the voters.
“Clear message must be sent. Taib must show gratitude to those that supported him and BN government,” said Awang in his article “New Reality.”
The columnist, whose pseudonym is used by Utusan editors, said that BN leaders must learn from the state election when preparing for the national polls.
“Once again, the attitude of the Chinese voters is clear in rejecting BN. Awang believes that sentiment of Chinese voters in the peninsular is also the same. The reality is that after dominating the economy for so long, the Chinese community wants to have greater influence and become a dominant political force.
“The campaign to change the state government seems to only be accepted by a majority of the Chinese voters. The Bumiputera community still remains strong with BN,” Awang added.
He said that BN must formulate a new strategy without depending on the support of the Chinese voters.
Awang said the ruling coalition must not fall into a trap of granting every demands of the community if they continue to vote for DAP.
“Let the support come naturally. If the Chinese voters continue to reject BN then we should not worry as there will be a way out,” Awang said.
The columnist also said that BN can still win in the general election without the support of the Chinese community.
“What is important is to empower the voters that are already loyal supporters. We should not pursue what we cannot get. The potential for BN to win is still huge with the growing support of the Bumiputeras, Malays, Indian and other ethnic communities.
“If there is additional support from a small percentage of Chinese voters then that is a bonus. All parties must be ready with the new reality,” said Awang.
Last night BN managed to keep its two-thirds legislative majority in Sarawak but the results have shattered the coalition’s invincibility and the notion of a fixed deposit in future elections.
The DAP doubled its presence to 12 in Chinese-majority seats while PKR tripled its representation although the Pakatan Rakyat (PR) lynchpin had contested in 49 seats. PAS lost in all five seats it contested while Independent George Lagong took one seat.
The number of state seats to the Opposition pact will spell danger for BN as it could help them win more parliamentary seats when the general election is called by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak. PR now has 75 MPs but the Sarawak win could translate into more in the future.