ANALYSIS, April 20 — After successfully coaxing Datuk Seri S. Samy Vellu into relinquishing his three-decade rule of MIC, Datuk Seri Najib Razak is set to employ the same “carrot or the stick” method to cajole Tan Sri Taib Mahmud to head for the exit.
But Taib, whose refusal to step down after 30 years in power and reputedly the reason why Barisan Nasional (BN) lost 16 of the 71 seats in the state legislative assembly in last week’s election, is likely to be more resistant than Samy Vellu.
According to reports, Najib and his deputy, Tan Sri Muyhiddin Yassin, were in Sarawak before nomination on April 6 to persuade Taib to step aside in favour of Datuk Abang Johari, 61, the PBB No. 2.
They tried to reason with Taib using the Sibu by-election result as an indication of burgeoning urban voter backlash, which they said could be headed off if he handed the reins over to a successor.
But they relented after Taib assured them the rural heartland was with BN and that they need him to deliver the Malay/Melanau/Dayak vote.
Johari, the deputy president of PBB and a Taib loyalist, is unlikely to want to succeed the chief minister unless the long-serving leader concedes and paves the way for him to do so.
Unlike in MIC where former deputy president Datuk S. Subramaniam was a constant threat to Samy Vellu and whom Najib had favoured over Samy Vellu’s anointed successor, Datuk G. Palanivel, Taib has had no challenger in PBB since the early 1980s .
Umno, too, failed to groom one as a rival to Taib, not in the PBB or among the Bumiputera of Sarawak, leaving Taib unchallenged as chief minister.
Taib, in turn, “takes care” of Umno and peninsular Malaysia leaders using the state’s vast natural resources to deflect criticism and prevent emerging rivals from gaining a foothold in PBB or in Sarawak.
Ha has also cleverly exploited the constant factional fights in Umno to his advantage and provided leverage for select factions to stay in power.
Just as Sarawak with its 31 parliamentary seats emerged as a “fixed deposit” state for BN, Taib also viewed Umno and West Malaysian political leaders as his “fixed deposit” to stay in power.
“It works both ways… both sides are fixed deposits for each other,” said a political observer. “A Chinese voter revolt in the urban centres has set back the Barisan Nasional somewhat but has not upset the apple cart.”
Rattled by the huge crowds the DAP was pulling in the urban constituencies, Umno and BN leaders from the MCA down to the MIC and PPP, hit the campaign trail, fearful that the unrest might spread to the interior which housed the traditional vote banks.
Najib and Muhiyiddin worked relentlessly to keep rural voters with BN, with Najib taking an unprecedented week off from his duties as prime minister to campaign across the state.
It is their effort that really turned the tide for BN.
Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad also added pressure on Taib, telling him to do the “needful”, while campaigning in Malay/Melanau areas.
Taib has said he will go in “two or three” years or “midway” into his new term, but had stopped short of providing a firm date.
But the fear is Taib may remain until the time when Najib calls the 13th general election, possible later this year, and that his unpopularity could hurt BN’s chances of retaining the state’s 31 parliamentary seats.
The DAP won Kuching in Election 2008 and added Sibu in the by-election last May.
If the urban voter swing persists, political experts say several parliamentary constituencies are in danger of falling into opposition hands.
“About seven urban parliament seats out of 31 might fall to Pakatan Rakyat if a general election is called this year,” they said. “If the urban revolt spreads it is anybody’s guessing how the parliament seats might go.”
Considering the situation, Najib has every reason to want to persuade Taib to step down as soon as possible.
But “persuading” Taib, who also runs his party with an iron fist like Samy Vellu, will be more difficult because unlike Samy Vellu, Taib can draw on the resources of the rich state, which he now rules as he sees fit.
Sarawak also has its own immigration laws and, being a distance from Kuala Lumpur, has its own native political elite who do not take kindly to being dictated to.
The abrupt manner in which Taib had himself sworn in as chief minister before the full official results were out also indicates he is wary and fully alert to the possibilities of being suddenly dethroned.
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