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Friday, April 22, 2011

The Sarawak State Election – Winners and Losers by Matthias Chang

Implications and consequences for the 13th General Election

My analysis of the results of the just completed Sarawak State Election will annoy many and is contrary to the views expressed by the entire cross-section of political pundits. It is not a time for celebrations by the BN, for the two-third majority will not necessarily translate to a similar victory in the next General Election.

Preposterous as it may sound, it was a miracle that the Barisan Nasional retained
its two-third majority in the State Assembly. It was not a miracle for DAP even though it has secured a higher number of seats – 12 and or that Pakatan Rakyat’s overall strength in the Assembly increased to 15. And the biggest winner is none other than the incumbent Chief Minister, Tan Sri Abdul Taib Mahmud, the undisputed leader of the leading party, Parti Pesaka Bumiputera Bersatu (PBB) and Chairman of the ruling coalition in Sarawak.

The views expressed by the political pundits, especially from Peninsula Malaysia, specifically UMNO and the editors of the mainstream media are so skewed, it is unbelievable. The conventional wisdom was that Tan Sri Taib Mahmud was the
biggest liability of the Barisan Nasional.

Some are even demanding his exit now that the election is over. How naive can one be!

This is utter rubbish! If not for the political maturity and the cunning strategy adopted by Tan Sri Taib Mahmud, the Barisan Nasional would have lost more seats. The fact that PBB won all the seats it contested as was the case in all past state elections except in 1987 is a testament to the ability of this “old fox”, a street-wise politician who outsmarted and out-maneuvered his enemies both within and without the Barisan Nasional.

I write this not from hindsight, but with foresight as I have expressed this view, first in the 2001 state election, and weeks before this election.

In the 2001 state election, UMNO driven by its political secretaries’ master plan, wanted to seize political power in Sarawak from PBB and make UMNO the dominant party. Prior to the said elections, it was almost a done deal that the Chief Minister be removed. When I heard about this political strategy, I advised the then prime minister Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad that it would be a disaster to topple the chief minister as it would open the door for the Opposition parties (DAP and Keadilan) to penetrate the state. I was the only political secretary holding this view and none were wiser. The basis for my advice was simple. There was no crisis, no controversies or general unhappiness amongst the various ethnic groups and most were contented with the leadership of the chief minister. Barisan Nasional under Taib Mahmud had a near record of total victory at every election. The Barisan Nasional was always assured that on nomination day, they had a fail-safe state in Sarawak. The cliché was “Sarawak is the fixed deposit for Barisan Nasional”. And how true!

I was proven right not only in 2001 but also in 2006.

In this election, the same power hungry ambition that was prevalent in 2001 emerged, and a sophisticated campaign against the Chief Minister was orchestrated. It was started by BN parties and the Opposition then rode on the momentum. The calculation was that it would be difficult for BN to lose Sarawak, but if PBB fails to win big in the seats that it contested and or to lose the two-third majority, then the blame falls squarely on the Chief Minister. I had written last year that the benchmark for retaining a two-third majority will be the millstone around the necks of all BN leaders, and such failure would
inevitably result in a “palace coup” as happened to Tun Abdullah Badawi.

Capturing political power by UMNO in Sarawak was more important even if SUPP is destroyed in the process. The rest, as they say is history.

Once again, Taib Mahmud survived the most vicious “hate campaign” ever mounted against him by his enemies within and without the BN. Congratulations to him for a welldeserved win. Barisan Nasional component parties should not claim credit that it was their efforts that enabled PBB to win all 35 seats that it contested. We should give credit where credit is due. One factor and one factor alone was the major reason for this astounding victory – Taib Mahmud. Not even the Prime Minister or the Deputy Prime Minister can claim credit for this PBB victory.

Anyone can challenge my viewpoint as mere hindsight. But my rebuttal is simply this:ten days ago in the Eastin Hotel, I was having dinner with a former senior journalist of a Chinese newspaper and a former director of a leading mainstream media, when a filthy rich towkay from Selangor who had no business dabbling in Sarawak politics came over to my table and ventured to offer his advice – “we must get rid of Taib, as he is creating problems for everyone in Sarawak and this will affect the next General Election.” It is clear that he has been suckered to part with his monies (he is a big developer) to
finance this campaign. What does an egoistic multi-millionaire, who recently got his “Tan Sri”, knows about the political situation in Sarawak? My curt reply was, “Tan Sri knows nothing about Sarawak and the Chief Minister. Getting rid of Taib will be disaster for BN not only in Sarawak but also in the coming General Election. Stay out of Sarawak politics. Don’t you interfere!” I then dismissed him summarily and it was clear that he felt the sting of my sharp rebuke.

Let me warn the Barisan Nasional, here and now – get rid of Taib Mahmud and you will end up losing your fixed deposit in the next General Election. He has delivered an unblemished record of 35 seats in this State Election, and he will deliver another unblemished record for Parliament in the next General Election.

Only an idiot and a poor strategist will want to get rid of such a savvy political tactician. If corruption is an issue and that seems to be the main criticism of Taib Mahmud, there are worst political leaders in the ranks of BN who have got rich without doing much for their state or country. I am not for corrupt leaders and ineffective leaders. But I am a pragmatist. Local political issues dominate and will dominate in rural / interior politics of Sarawak. National issues will dominate and continue to dominate in urban areas (the reasons being, more access to information and generally more sophisticated voters).

 I want BN to win in the next election. So common sense must prevail, not narrow power ambitions.

Taib was never the liability of BN. Only UMNO perceived him as such, for it was the only way the powers-that-be could seize political power for UMNO in Sarawak. They believed in their own propaganda and this was exploited by the Opposition but to no effect in the interiors of Sarawak and among the indigenous people.

The biggest liability was in fact Tan Sri George Chan, the Deputy Chief Minister and leader of SUPP and this was proven correct when he was ousted from the Piasau seat by DAP newcomer Ling Sie Kiong.

That he was such a liability was apparent way back in 2006. No UMNO leader demanded his ouster even when he failed to deliver and was also perceived to be corrupt.

The responsibility for winning the urban voters rests mainly on the Sarawak United People’s Party (SUPP) and being a predominantly Chinese party, it had the added burden of retaining the confidence of the more informed Chinese electorate. SUPP and Tan Sri George Chan failed miserably.

Adding insult to injury, SUPP had to summon the likes of MCA and Chua Soi Lek to give credence to its integrity during the election campaign. A blind leading a blind!

The biggest loser is BN. It has lost the Chinese votes as a result of the insidious campaign against Taib Mahmud. BN suffered from this blowback. BN focus in the urban areas was distracted away from Tan Sri George Chan to that of Taib Mahmud. Had BN demanded the ouster of this moribund politician, DAP would not have made such a dramatic improvement in Sarawak. PKR did not fare well because, in the areas in which they contested, the voters did not accept that outsiders should be leading Sarawak politics. Better deal with the devil you know than an “angel” that has yet to be tested in Sarawak. Period!

Taib Mahmud will emerge stronger and PBB will be indispensable for all future BN elections in Sarawak and the coming General Election. Leave Taib Mahmud alone to deliver the crucial BN votes in the next General Election. The Prime Minister should focus on Peninsula Malaysia.

The Second Biggest Loser is the so-called “third-force” or “third parties/movement”. None had credibility and were soundly trashed.

In so far as personalities associated with “third-parties/movement”, Raja Petra’s convoluted admissions had no impact at all in the Sarawak election. And I would like to warn the leaders of the BN parties not to be too happy with this blogger’s admission and or denials. Like a sword, whatever he says cut both ways and in the long run, whatever admissions and or denials will have a negative effect on Barisan Nasional. I, for one do not consider his statements in the interview with TV3 as something to be happy about. Take just one example. He says that he should be charged only for one offence, criminal defamation against the Colonel who allegedly provided the allegations. It is trite law that the repetition of an unfounded defamatory statement, is itself a defamatory statement. Were there any caveats that when he repeated the allegations, he had reservations about the allegations, not believing them to be true? Why now, the admission that he considers the allegations to be unreasonable? He said that he was betrayed by “BUL” and this realization occurred two years ago. Why did he not point a finger at Tengku Razaleigh who seemed to be the mastermind as opposed to Anwar for “BUL” works for Tengku Razaleigh for years as his confidante? So was John Pang. He also mentioned the presence of a blogger “Big Dog”. Is this disinformation? Why now?

So I question his motives.

Be that as it may, the Barisan Nasional should stay away from his kind of politics. Does his revelation really help the BN?
Be careful when we are offered the chalice – for it may be a poison chalice!

What next for the BN?

It is clear we have no strategies and tactics for winning the urban voters, specifically the Chinese voters. We alienated the Chinese voters by pandering to Tan Sri George Chan. We are doing the same with MCA. Some Malay political pundits may well take the view that they do not need Chinese votes. My advice to them is to read Tun Dr. Mahathir’s
memoirs. Tun became such a skillful politician because he learns from his mistake, voters can be placated. All it takes is common sense. Draw lessons from 2008. MCA will end up like SUPP, in fact even worse if BN mishandle the Chinese voters. There is time yet to reconsider the blueprint for victory.

There is no need to hurry into a General Election in 2011.

Remember and count your blessings that a miracle happened in Sarawak. That Taib won all 35 PBB seats for the BN, in spite being maligned, treated so badly like an old rag, and threatened to be discarded unceremoniously before and during the campaign.

He was a brilliant political tactician and his courage and perseverance won the day.

Don’t condemn this viewpoint outright. Examine your conscience AND YOUR AMBITIONS, before cursing this messenger for telling the unpalatable. It may well save BN’s neck in the next General Election.


Matthias Chang is a Malaysian of Chinese descent. He is a Barrister of 32 years standing and once served as the Political Secretary to the Fourth Prime Minister of Malaysia, Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad. He is the author of three bestsellers, “Future FastForward”, “Brainwashed for War, Programmed to Kill”, and “The Shadow Money-Lenders and the Global Financial Tsunami”, published in the US and in Malaysia. Since his student days in England in the late 1960s, he was and still is, actively involved in the anti-war movement spanning a period of 41 years. He is a Catholic but enjoins all to promote inter-faith understanding. He resides in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

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