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Sarawak chief minister set to step down after 33 years
Publication Date : 06-02-2014
After continual speculation on his future over the past few years, Sarawak strongman Taib Mahmud looks set to finally step down as chief minister and seems poised to take over as the Yang di-Pertua Negeri (official title of the ceremonial governors of the Malaysian states without monarchs).
Many in the political and media circles became certain of his intention to quit as chief minister after the announcement that the term for the Head of State Muhammad Salahuddin would be extended from Dec 5, 2013 to only February 28 this year.
Fuelling their expectation of the exit of the man who has ruled the state since 1981 was his sudden calls for meetings of the Parti Pesaka Bumiputera Bersatu (PBB) supreme council and with Sarawak Barisan Nasional MPs and assemblymen this weekend. They believe that Taib – whose 33 years in office make him the longest serving government leader in the country – wants to inform senior members of his party and Barisan’s elected representatives of his decision.
PBB, of which Taib is president, is a component party of the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition in Malaysia.
News that Taib is expected to bow out as chief minister soon has badly hit Sarawak-linked counters on Bursa Malaysia. Cahya Mata Sarawak, which is some 43% owned by Taib’s family, was among the biggest losers, finishing Wednesday’s trade 2.6% down to 7.24 ringgit (US$2.18).
While some politicians are sure that Taib will bow out as the head of government to become the Tuan Yang Terutama (His Excellency), others say “it will not happen so soon”.
PBB senior supreme council member Idris Buang said reports of Taib quitting by the end of this month were just speculation.
“Taib is still needed for the development of SCORE (the Sarawak Corridor of Renewable Energy) and the Sarawak agenda,” he added.
Assistant Housing Minister Abdul Karim Rahman Hamzah, who is also a senior PBB member, said: “He had indicated before the last state election that this could be his last term. Along the way there have been signals that he would step down midway through this term which will end in 2016. It could be tomorrow, it could be next month, it could be next year. It could be any time but it is definitely within this term.
“As much as we would like him to carry on as chief minister, age is catching up. Preparations need to be made for someone to take over the post. We will leave it to him to decide. He knows best when to retire and who to pass the baton to.”
Housing and Tourism Minister Amar Abang Johari Tun Openg chose to keep mum over the question of Taib resigning. “I cannot comment on speculation,” he said.
BN constituent member Parti Rakyat Sarawak (PRS) president Dr James Masing, asked whether the 78-year-old Taib would resign, said: “I believe he will. The day, month and year he retires will be up to him to decide. Just give him the time and space to do so. As for his successor, PRS will follow whomever PBB and top Barisan leaders decide on.”
Meanwhile, Universiti Malaysia Sarawak senior lecturer on politics and history Dr Jeniri Amir said Taib might announce his retirement this weekend.
“His time is up. He has promised many a time he would give up his post and the time has come for him to fulfil that,” he said.
Asked on who would be the most likely successor, Dr Jeniri said Abang Johari has a proven track record as minister and is PBB deputy president. He has a better chance of succeeding Taib than Second Minister of Resource Management and Environment Amar Awang Tengah Ali Hasan whom people still perceive as a “junior” for the position, according to Dr Jeniri.
He said PBB information chief Adenan Satem should not be ruled out as he had been a trusted ally of Taib’s.
Deputy Chief Minister Alfred Jabu has been ruled out as a candidate for the post, probably because he is from the Pesaka wing.