The 49th Malaysia Day Celebrations in Bintulu on Sunday witnessed a “love fest” between the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Najib Razak and the Sarawak Chief Minister, Tan Sri Taib Mahmud, with each crooning the greatness of the other.
Najib praised the co-operation and support for the Federal Government from Taib and the Sarawak state government, and even alleged that “certain states” are not as developed as Sarawak because other state governments “prefer to politicise issues instead of working with the Federal Government”.
On his part, Taib gave his blessings to Najib as the Prime Minister when he said that it would be a loss to the nation and people “if we lose the continuity of the good government in the form of the Barisan Nasional government”.
Taib added that “there is no political newcomer that can produce miracle to say they can do better than Barisan Nasional government which has run the country so well for more than 50 years”.
But what the Najib-Taib “love fest” in Bintulu camouflaged was the clear victory “hands-down” by Taib in the political tug-of-war with Najib.
Before the Sarawak state general election in April 2011, Najib had tried to pressure Taib to step down as Chief Minister but in vain.
There were reports that Taib, who had been Sarawak Chief Minister for over 30 years since 26th March 1981, succeeded in getting a “reprieve”, on the basis that he would call the state general elections and to leave office once a “transition period” had established a suitable successor.
This was what Sarawak Tribune reported on Sunday, 20th March 2011:
Taib to step down after polls
SERIAN: Chief Minister Pehin Sri Abdul Taib Mahmud says he will step down but before that he wants to lead the Barisan Nasional (BN) in the upcoming state election to ensure smooth leadership transition.
He made the announcement at the Samarahan-level launching of ‘Sejiwa Senada’ programme here yesterday.
The programme, launched by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak, is aimed at fostering closer contacts between the people and civil servants through the promotion of government services in a one-stop service centre.
Taib said: “I had the intent ion to step down even way back in 2006 but due to many factors and unavoidable ci rcumstances then, i t was not possible for me to do so.”
Najib, meanwhile, said he respected Taib’s decision (to step down) and gave his assurance to the people that he would give his full support to the Chief Minister in leading the state government.
“I respect Pehin Sri because he has been in politics for a long time…even during the time of my father as the Prime Minister.
“I support Pehin Sri’s decision to gradually step down as the Chief Minister but this will be done at the right time and I can assure the people that when Pehin Sri is ready, the transition will be a smooth one,” he said.
The Prime Minister said that Taib would continue to serve the people in other capacities even after relinquishing the Chief Minister’s post, and assured that the federal government would continue to defend the rights and interests of Sarawakians for a long time to come, regardless of their races and beliefs.
The matter (decision to step down) was again mentioned at a press conference by the Prime Minister at Kuching International Airport here before leaving for Kuala Lumpur yesterday evening.
Najib told the press that Taib would proceed to contest in the upcoming state election and to continue leading the Sarawak Barisan Nasional party in the election.
When pressed further, Najib did not discount the possibility that Taib would step down midway into his term of office after winning the state election.
There was however widespread cynicism and scepticism that Taib had agreed to any exit timetable, which prompted Najib to return to the subject three weeks later when starting his six-day whirlwind election tour of Sarawak on April 11, 2011 declaring at a rally at the Kuching South City Council (MBKS) indoor stadium in Bintawa, Kuching:
“I have discussed with the Sarawak CM and he has agreed to have a leadership change in Sarawak. Believe me, in me, at the right timing, this will be done.”
When pressed at the time, Taib equivocated although he finally mentioned “two years” as the timeframe of his stepping down as Sarawak Chief Minister after the Sarawak state general elections on April 16, 2011.
As I said at the DAP ceramah in Bau on Sept. 8, Taib’s two-year timeframe to step down as Sarawak Chief Minister will be up in seven months’ time but there are absolutely no signs that he is prepared and ready to honour his understanding and undertaking with Najib to effect a transition of power in Sarawak.
In fact, all the signs point to the opposite, as Taib seems to be ensconced to complete his full term as Chief Minister. This explained his speech earlier on Sept. 8 that there was no need to speed up leadership change as the people of Sarawak were able to “enjoy peace, political stability and organised development”.
I had pointed out that it would appear that Taib’s speech was specially meant for Najib’s ears, with the unmistakable message that he was not going to honour his understanding with the Prime Minister on stepping down as Chief Minister.
I said there was “a test of will” between Taib and Najib, and that Taib was “thumbing his nose at the Prime Minister, defying Najib to see who could last longer politically” as Taib was confident that Najib was too weak politically to try to enforce their understanding before the 416 Sarawak state general elections to be Sarawak Chief Minister for only two years.
I said in Bau that the most appropriate occasion for Najib to clarify whether his understanding with Taib on the latter’s stepping down as Sarawak Chief Minister two years after the Sarawak state general elections still stands would be during the Prime Minister’s visit to Bintulu during the Malaysia Day national celebrations.
The answer is furnished by the Najib-Taib “love fest” in Bintulu during the Malaysia Day celebrations, which camouflaged Taib’s wins hands-down in the political tug-of-war with Najib.
The reason is also very simple and straightforward – the table has turned with Taib now having more political leverage vis-à-vis Najib instead of the other way round 18 months ago before the April 16, 2011 Sarawak state general elections.