Saturday, April 9, 2011

Sarawak Watch: Salleh The Giant Killer ?

Hantu Laut

A Dayak and his Manok Sabong.Guess how he is going to vote?

I know Salleh Jafaruddin briefly when he was Deputy Federal Minister of Education in the early eighties and had the privilege of being invited, several times, to his house in Kuala Lumpur, a huge luxury mansion atop Kenny Hills where the wealthy resided those days.Now, Kuala Lumpur has more posh addresses.

An affable man with charming personality he was Sarawak's rising star then and led an opulent and sybaritic lifestyle. With Sarawak's political reward system money was no object as long as one toe the line.However, Salleh's political fortune was destined to take a wrong turn.

In 1983, the Governor Abdul Rahman Yakub's open animosity with his nephew, Sarawak Chief Minister Taib Mahmud led him to attack Taib in a speech he delivered at the opening ceremony of Bintulu port over claims of Taib sidelining the interests of bumiputras.

The bitter dispute with Taib over allocation of timber rights eventually led Rahman to form a new party called Permas to challenge Taib at the polls.Much in a hurry as the polls was still a distance away Rahman organised a slapdash power takeover.

In March 1987, out of the blue that surprised many, 27 of the 48 state assemblymen directed their support to Rahman and called on Taib to resign as chief minister. Overly ambitious and underestimating the might of Taib was the flamboyant Salleh Jafaruddin who joined the hare-brained coup orchestrated by Rahman to topple Taib.The gathering was at Ming Court, Kuala Lumpur in March 1987 and was known as "The Ming Court Affair"

Abdul Rahman and some Malay leaders in PBB were unhappy with Taib neglecting the interests of bumiputras or rather neglecting his demands for more forest concessions for himself and his cronies....he claimed the Bidayuhs, Iban, Melanaus and Malays were sidelined in favour of the Chinese. Huge tracts of land, forest concessions and projects were given to SUPP and the Chinese.SUPP was the darling of Taib's regime then and I guess still is.

SUPP political fortunes may change on April 16 2011 that may see the political demise of many of its representatives.DAP stands to profit from SUPP's decline and may take significant urban seats.Taib's courtship with those Chinese towkays made wealthy by him have not endeared him to the Chinese community.Unlike the bumiputras, majority of Chinese are not dependent on political handouts.

The coup failed and Taib prevailed. Salleh and all those involved were chastised by Taib who quickly closed the taps on them, drying out Salleh and the other conspirators of finances.The debacle broke Salleh's pocket that sent him off to political wilderness.

In retaliation, Taib also cancelled 30 timber licences held by his defectors and Rahman's clients, one of which was an area sold by Rahman to Sabah businessman Majid Khan who paid for the concession and was left in the lurch with the vanquish of the once powerful Rahman.As they say the rest is history.

Can Salleh dethrone Taib? Would he be the giant killer?

There is talk of PKR wanting to pull out their candidate to allow for a straight fight between Taib and Salleh, a tussle between two cousins.

Taib has a huge war chest and the government machinery at his disposal which in Malaysian politics gave him the edge over his opponent.

Salleh's impecuniousness and past reputation would make it an uphill battle for him to unseat Taib.

Malaysia is no Tunisia or Egypt, there would not be any people's power.More often than not, it is money power that would buy you a place into the august house.