Monday, February 26, 2024

Post-Taib Sarawak

Post-Mahathir Malaysia has not been a smooth transition. Two of his predecessors from UMNO were toppled by the strong man leader for not succumbing to his wishes. He came back as the seventh PM and the country went into a tailspin. 

The subsequent eight and nineth PM was beseiged with a global crisis that could not stabilise the disaster of Mahathir's return in 2018. 

The news and social media reported the strong man was admitted into IJN but talk is there were political meetings held in the hospital to plot the downfall of PM X in retaliation to the corruption investigation against his children and henchman the former Finance Minister. 

Ringgit touched its 26 year low against US dollar and the lowest ever against Singapore. The planned fiscal reform that had to be instituted is causing public anxiety to increase taxation and rising prices of goods in the midst of a softening growth. All is in place for a challenging Year of the Wooden Dragon as predicted by the zodiac

It only proves Malaysia cannot settle in after Mahathir left in 2003. The prolong state of transition has languished to a state of decline. Will the same phenomenon occur in Sarawak after two Chief Ministers since Taib Mahmud?  

If Taib had interfered, his passing should end any possible interferences similar to Mahathir. And the much talked about Raghad factor should be considered as a private family affair. However, a letter to the Editor in Malaysiakini views it differently:      

Taib Mahmud’s death and Sarawak’s future

Nehru Sathiamoorthy

Malaysiakini Feb 22, 2024 

LETTER | Abdul Taib Mahmud is dead. This raises a lot of questions about what is going to happen to Sarawak in the near future.

It is often the case that after a strongman who has ruled for decades passes away, a vicious power struggle will ensue.

A strongman keeps his power by depending on secrets, shadows and complications. Once he is gone, no one will possess all the secrets, or know how to lurk in the shadows or work the complicated levers of power that are necessary to keep everything together.

The fact that no one knows everything and that everybody is vulnerable, added with the fact that the strongman would have likely been leaving behind a treasure trove of wealth and power that he had accumulated throughout his long years in power, will likely persuade all sorts of gamblers, risk takers and dreamers, to try their luck and fill the power vacuum.

Their antics have the potential of causing Sarawak to go into a tailspin.

Other than an internal power struggle, Sarawak is also mired with existing and external problems.

Sarawak is the only non-Muslim majority state in Malaysia and Taib comes from the Melanau tribe, who are actually one of the smaller tribes in Sarawak.

The Melanau, however, hold extraordinary power in Sarawak despite their size, on account of their closeness to Putrajaya.

Being a Muslim tribe who have embraced a Malay-Muslim culture and lifestyle, the Melanau's have for decades controlled the politics of Sarawak despite being a minority tribe, by taking advantage of their closeness with those in Putrajaya.

Now with Taib gone and the power structure in Putrajaya weakened by internal fighting, it is a question mark as to whether the Melanau-Putrajaya cooperation to control Sarawak will still hold.

Sarawak is also located in the highly contentious South China Sea region and will be a major theatre of conflict between China and the West.

Considering the general consensus that the dispute between China and the West will most likely manifest itself in the next five to 10 years, the question of whether foreign powers will interfere in the contentious post-Taib politics of Sarawak in the future, as an extension of their power play in the South China Sea region, is something that we will also have to think about deeply.

The affairs in Sabah and Sarawak have always taken a backseat to the happenings in the peninsular. Post-Taib, this might not be the case anymore.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.


The Melayu-Melanau remained in control of the state government, dominating the Sarawak representation in the cabinet in Putrajaya, and Taib's replacement as Governor. 

In recent years, the Dayak group of indigenous tribes were rejuvenated by a 2019 seminar and expedition in Sungau,  Provinsi Kalimantan Tengah for the 125 years celebration of the 1894 Tumbang Anoi Peace Accord.

It was participated by 5,000 Dayak from various parts of Borneo. There was a new inspiration to develop, unite, and struggle for the well-being of the 400 Dayak tribes throughout Borneo. 

The Dayak of Kalimantan have been given greater prominence by Indonesia following the planned shift of the Indonesian capital to Nusantara, Kalimantan

They will be the anchor towards efforts to strengthen ties and increase social, cultural and economic cooperation between the 10 million Dayak of Sabah, Sarawak, Brunei and Kalimantan

In Sarawak, the loss of James Masing found in PBB's Secretary General, Alexander Nanta Linggi as the new voice of the Iban to assert their rights under the unstated social contract between the Melayu-Melanau, Dayak and Chinese, and champion Sarawak concern

And the Dayak are making their presence with Wan Junaidi's replacement as President of Dewan Negara  given to a Dayak former state assemblymen of the Lun Bawang tribe, Mutang Tagal and more key positions in state law enforcement are held by Iban. 

There are analyst viewing the announced merger of GPS coalition member PDP and Wong Song Poh-led opposition PSB as a cynical move to iritate PBB's dominance in GPS

If the usual destabilising condition surrounding the end of strong man era duplicated in Sarawak, PDP-PSB can have a more prominent existence post-Taib. Off course, Ting King Sing has to survive Bintulu or perhaps move to a challenging new constituency in Sibu.      

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