SEALED AND DELIVERED: Sarawak chief minister can safely assume that the opposition won't be able to make inroads in the state
QUITE a few Sara-wakians fault their Chief Minister Tan Sri Abdul Taib Mahmud for staying in office for more than three decades and not naming a successor all this while but developments this week show that he will indeed be a hard act to follow once he leaves, which still seems likely -- as he publicly committed -- before the end of the current state assembly term in about four years.
Speaking before the media at his Hari Raya open house in Kuching, Taib let on that he will be discussing with Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak a review of the quantum of oil royalty paid to the state by Petronas.
As they say in politics, timing is everything. The opposition, both at the federal level and in Sabah (though not quite as noisily in Sarawak) has been harping on the issue for some time. As some members of Taib's state cabinet chimed in along the same lines lately, the chief minister made his move.
Taib said he would not be negotiating over the matter openly, preferring instead to use his quiet influence with Putrajaya to cut a deal. For all we know, the cake (about a higher royalty payment for Sarawak) may already have been baked but for the public serving.
When an announcement over a deal is finally made, count on both Putrajaya and Kuching to suggest how it was possible only because of the favourable rapport between both state and federal governments.
Barisan Nasional will again be in a position to claim it delivers what the opposition can only promise -- a fairer shake for Sarawak (and Sabah) to directly enjoy the revenues from the hydrocarbon resources of both states.
Taib pointedly took oblique aim at opposition leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim when he (Taib) said a certain leader now promises higher oil royalties for Sarawak and Sabah but failed to agree when that leader was in a position to do so. Anwar was, of course, once deputy prime minister and finance minister.
Taib is in a good position to stymie Anwar's latest political game plan to try to create a bandwagon effect within the Sarawak BN following the recent defections of two leaders in Sabah to the opposition.
That opposition effort has apparently been thwarted as far as Sarawak is concerned.
State Minister Datuk Amar Abang Johari Tun Openg appears to be unimpressed with the personal calibre of the two Sabah defectors and intimated to this writer how Anwar was able to draw a crowd of only some 300 in Abang Johari's own constituency in Kuching after news of the Sabah defections came out.
Another state minister, Tan Sri Dr James Masing, went on record publicly this week calling Anwar a political chameleon.
The bandwagon, such as it is, may have already stalled in Sabah itself. In any case, the proliferation of parties within the opposition alliance there makes opposition unity just so much more difficult now.
The oasis of political calm that is the Sarawak BN owes much to Taib's astute helming of the state. This is all the more remarkable considering he does not have coercive powers that he needs to use to bring any political recalcitrant to heel.
He knows he gets a free hand from Putrajaya running the state for so long as he delivers his end of the bargain: Sarawak's "fixed deposit" of its crucial vote bank.
Sarawak under his leadership seems in fine financial shape. It alone among the states gets its own sovereign credit rating which improved on its previously already creditable ranking lately despite a rather disastrous state investment in a wafer-fabrication plant some years ago in an attempt for the state to leapfrog into the high-technology field.
Although a Muslim, Taib is relaxed about other faiths and recently visited a Catholic church in Mukah where the local Melanaus are almost evenly divided between those who adhere to both the Muslim and Christian faiths.
He is known to have cultivated a life-long friendship with a senior local Catholic priest, the Reverend Datuk Lawrence Chua.
Probably alone among political leaders in the nation, Taib never faced any serious challengers to his leadership after seeing off a grave political threat orchestrated by his uncle-mentor and predecessor, Tun Abdul Rahman Yakub, in the mid-1980s.
The final act in the chief minister's long political career promises to be as intriguing and interesting to watch.
By John Teo | firstname.lastname@example.org Source: New Straits Times Columnist 24 August 2012