KUALA LUMPUR: The triennial delegates conference of Parti Pesaka Bumiputera Bersatu (PBB) starting in Kuching on Monday may be a humdrum affair as there is no contest for key positions except for some seats in the party’s supreme council.
Still, for political reasons, this conference will still generate much interest among political analysts and party members as the long-serving party president and Sarawak Chief Minister Tan Sri Abdul Taib Mahmud may choose the occasion to indicate his possible successor, at the very least.
Some in the party’s inner circle are speculating that Taib will provide some hints of his possible next-in-line as this might be his last term to head PBB, the most powerful political party in Sarawak.
But will he really? Many are also doubtful that he will do so at this juncture.
“He should have an exit strategy by now but there’s no evidence of this,” said Datuk Seri Daniel Tajem, an Iban who served as deputy chief minister to Taib in the early 1980s.
Tajem, who is now an advisor to Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) Sarawak, said Taib should have just taken the bull by the horns and publicly announce that he would quit.
Political analyst Dr Sivamurugan Pandian believes that Taib will relinquish his top party position only after the next state election because if he steps down now, it might trigger be a power struggle within the party.
“He has to groom someone to take over. We may see some indication of the likely person after the PBB convention,” he said.
Dr Sivamurugan said that, from a political strategy perspective, it would not be wise for him to step down before the state election as the party might be focusing more on who is going to be the next chief minister instead of winning and retaining power in the state election.
"Which issue would they want to focus on, the state leadership or state election?
Taib would not become an election issue if he stays on and leads the campaign in the coming state election.
The thinking of the people in Peninsular Malaysia, Sabah and Sarawak is different. That’s why, it would be better for Taib to step down only after the state election," he added. The potential successors are likely to come from those in the party’s deputy president position, who are normally being groomed to take over the top leadership.
But then again in Sarawak politics, it does not mean that this would happen for sure.
Taib, 74, is believed to be seriously looking for leaders to lead the party. He has helmed PBB since March 26, 1981, a period of about 29 years.
What is interesting is that whoever succeeds him as PBB president is going to be the chief minister of Sarawak.
In the past, Taib has eyed a number of PBB leaders who could take over from him, including Tan Sri Dr Sulaiman Daud, Datuk Seri Effendi Norwawi, Datuk Bujang Ulis, Datuk Abang Abu Bakar Mustapha and Datuk Seri Adenan Satem.
However, all of them have somewhat disappeared into political oblivion, for a number of reasons.
Some were said to be impatient, some just gave up on waiting.
PBB was formed following the merger between Parti Bumiputra and Parti Pesaka in January 1973.
In the party’s history, no one has ever challenged the party president and most of the party’s top positions went uncontested, except on two occasions, in 1998 and 2005, but it only involved the deputy president’s post. In 1998, both Adenan and Datuk Amar Abang Johari Tun Openg challenged each other for deputy president, which was reserved for the Malay/Melanau section of PBB.
Abang Johari triumphed following strong backing from the Dayak members despite the fact that Adenan was strongly backed by Taib at that time.
Adenan, the vanquished, was later appointed by Taib as the party’s senior vice-president.
Seven years later, Adenan mounted another challenge on Abang Johari, but the delegates conference was postponed when it was reported that some of Adenan’s supporters were found to have allegedly duplicated branches in some 40 constituencies.
PBB was later advised by the Registrar of Societies to have the election or risk being de-registered like the now defunct Parti Bansa Dayak Sarawak (PBDS).
Taib hinted in 2006 that he would have one last shot as the chief minister. The term of the current state administration will expire by July next year.
But, as early as last year, Taib sent a signal that he was preparing to step down and was reported to be looking for someone, regardless of race, to be trained to take over from him.
Talk of Taib preparing to pass the baton picked up momentum in April last year after the demise of his wife, Puan Sri Laila Taib, who has been described as the pillar of support for Taib in his political career.
Thus, the focus of interest will be on the current batch of senior leaders - Deputy President I Tan Sri Alfred Jabu, Deputy President II Abang Johari and Senior Vice-President Datuk Seri Awang Tengah Ali Hassan - as possible successors.
Alfred Jabu, an agricultural graduate and experienced politician, had been tutored by two of Sarawak’s best known politicians - Tun Abdul Rahman Yaakub, the former chief minister and Yang Dipertua Negeri, and later by Taib himself.
Since having been elected as state assemblyman for Layar in 1974, he has been appointed to various ministerial posts, including deputy chief minister under Rahman, and since March 1981 under Taib.
Another chief ministerial candidate is Abang Johari, who comes from an illustrious family where his father, Tun Abang Openg, was the first governor of Sarawak.
Holding an MBA degree from a British university, he is said to have shown his capability as industrial development minister before being moved to the tourism ministry.
In the recent state Cabinet reshuffle, he was tasked to look after the state ministry of housing and urban development.
Taib’s son, Datuk Seri Sulaiman who recently resigned as deputy tourism minister, has also been mentioned as another possible candidate as there is speculation that his father wants him to return to Sarawak and be “trained to take over”.
Political observers who have closely monitored Sarawak politics said although Sulaiman had not offered to contest any position in the party’s election, it did not mean that he would not be picked as a candidate in the next state election.
Another aspirant for chief minister is Awang Tengah, the minister of public utilities and the second minister of planning and resource management, which is considered by some as be the most powerful ministerial position after Taib in the state Cabinet.
There is also talk that Taib has also sought the views of people close to him, including some Dayak and Chinese ministers regarding his possible successor.
So, who will succeed Taib? The guessing game continues.
Source from The Star Online.