The white rajah of Sarawak was full of sarcasm when he professed concern for the fate of the Chinese community in the state. Taib Mahmud said he was a bit worried that the urban Chinese voters would pick the opposition to bark at the government. By not playing his game, he explicitly issued them a dire warning: “Voting the opposition means no government support… the areas lost by the Barisan Nasional-led government may not get anything.”
The overweening chief minister even predicted that the BN would be able to win the coming state election. The old man who has been around for the past 30 years thinks the vast, resource-rich state is a hereditary possession. The whole world knows he is a fabulously wealthy man who wields enormous power and who would use his treasure chest to bury his political foes. But history can repeat itself.
Just across the border, Sabah was once ruled by a chief minister dubbed “dirty” Harris. Harris Salleh was, like Uncle Taib, an arrogant and a blustering bully. For almost 10 years, he ruled the impoverished state with hardly any opposition. Then out of Tambunan came an unknown Kadazandusun paramount chief named Joseph Pairin Kitingan. At first, he was in the same party as Harris. Soon he became disillusioned with Harris’ Berjaya and began to oppose its policies and its abuses of power. Big-headed Harris could not stomach opposition from within his own ranks and soon Pairin was forced to quit Berjaya. But hubristic Harris had sealed his own fate.
Pairin became an independent and challenged the ruling party to stand against him in the seething battleground of Tambunan. Haughty Harris took the bait – and lost despite employing an arsenal of dirty tactics. Blinded by power, “dirty” Harris hit the roof and punished the people of Tambunan in a senseless act of vengeance: he deprived them of badly needed development funds. As a result, the Tambunan folk had to live through years of hardship.
But Harris miscalculated in his gamble. The Tambunan people did not buckle under these harsh conditions. They rallied around the banner of a new movement called Parti Bersatu Sabah (PBS) led by Pairin. When the next state election came, PBS, now the opposition front-runner, was ready to face Harris and his dirty band of followers. PBS fought hard for change and against the excesses of the ruling party. In a last desperate throw of the dice, Harris lost the whole state. The “noxious weed” was uprooted. It was sweet victory for the resilient people of Tambunan.
Will this momentous, historic event be repeated in Sarawak? Taib also threatened to deprive the Chinese community of development funds if they dare throw their lot with the opposition. He even brandished the now reviled line used ignominiously in the 2008 campaign: the government will not be able to help the Chinese community if “there was no effective Chinese representation in the government”. In that another remarkable upheaval, the government’s bluff was called.
But over the years Sabah has been politically emasculated. The scene has now shifted to Sarawak and Uncle Taib is also playing dirty. In fact, his game is dirtier than Harris. His rule is longer than Harris and he exercises absolute power. He controls almost every facet of life in Sarawak. He is not satisfied with what he has done, telling the people he is still looking for ways to develop the state – and pour more money into his bank. Nothing gets pass him without his imperious nod. All his partners in the coalition approach him on bended knees and “protestations of inviolable fidelity”.
He distributes his largesse (huge government contracts) to his supporters, cronies and family members without open tender but throws crumbs to the hungry, toiling natives. His vast business empire was built without breaking a sweat while Sarawak descended to the status of the fourth poorest state in the country despite having ample natural resources. When Sarawak goes to the polls soon, the power of money will no doubt come into full play. But the rumblings in the state against the leader are growing louder. Continue reading.