Sarawak strongman sets resignation date | Asia Pacific

Sarawak strongman sets resignation date

Sarawak strongman sets resignation date

Updated 13 February 2014, 14:03 AEDT

The controversial chief minister of Sarawak state in eastern Malaysia will resign by the end of this month.

Named one of Malaysia's most powerful political figures, Taib Mahmud, has ruled the resource-rich state for more than three decades.

The 77-year-old politician has been fending off allegations of rampant corruption and environmentally-destructive policies, particularly in the state's logging industry.

But observers say Mr Taib's resignation is unlikely to end his influence in the politically-crucial state.

Presenter: Sen Lam

Speaker: Dr Amrita Malhi, Hawke Research Institute at the University of South Australia.

MALHI: Well he announced that he would step down by the end of the month and his announcement was immediately met by public commentary, that perhaps he thinks that becoming Governor as opposed to Chief Minister will protect him from allegations of corruption. He's declared that he won't cooperate with the Malaysian anti-corruption agency for example, so there's plenty of speculation about what this might mean.
LAM: So is the Governor's position there for his taking?
MALHI: Well I don't know that this is completely clear. There's again reports or speculation that the federal government is not impressed by this announcement, and apparently the deputy prime minister is in Kuching at the moment. What they're talking about of course is not known to me. But one thing I can say is that Sarawak has long been a bastion for Barisan Nasional power or National Front power. Yet it's also one in which UMNO, the main party in the National Front coalition federally has not made a foothold. So this could be viewed as an opportunity for them to attempt to make that, to parachute themselves into Sarawak, but we really don't know, time will tell.
LAM: So where Taib is concerned, there is speculation that he intends to stay behind the scenes, pulling the strings as it were. So if he does become the Governor, what role exactly does a Governor play in Sarawak State?
MALHI:  This is something that is again quite opaque, and the discussions about how that's going to go are also opaque. One thing I can say though is that his successor is not very different from him, so this is where the speculation comes from, in the sense that he's appointed somebody who's also in his late 70s, who's also not in the very best of health. So this is the source of the speculation that he'll in fact be pulling the strings behind the scenes.
LAM: And of course, this successor is his former brother-in-law, Adenan Satem, yeah?
MALHI: Yeah.
LAM: So what do we know about Adenan Satem? Is he very much a Taib Mahmud man?
MALHI: Well I guess it looks that way. He's as I said not much younger that Taib himself, he's 70-something. He also seems to have not been present at the announcement that he was going to be the new Chief Minister, although this is reportedly a done deal. 
So until now he's had all kinds of roles, he's been a special advisor to Taib. At one point, he was his brother-in-law. He's also been involved in federal politics as Natural Resources Minister. So there's no reason to believe that he'd be governing in a different mould from Taib, but arguably that's why he's been named.
LAM: Indeed, in fact some wags have described him as Taib's poodle. Do you think that's a bit unfair or is there some truth in that?
MALHI: Well time will tell, let's see, I mean there's so much background speculation about power deals being made in backrooms and so on as well. But I just don't think we can know, time will time.
LAM: And Amrita Malhi, of course corruption is a key issue for the ruling Barisan Nasional government in Kuala Lumpur at the centre in Putra Jaya. Do you think the BN government had a role in Mr Taib's resignation?
MALHI: Yeah, I mean, it's possible. I mean one thing about Sarawak is that's always been a bastion of Barisan Nasional, it's been a voter bank I guess, some people refer to it as its 'fixed deposit'. 
So it's possible that if the allegations of corruption are found to be cutting a bit too sharply into the reputation of Barisan Nasional, then perhaps you know it might be viewed as time to clean it up. But again like I said there are reports that this is a way for Taib to escape from corruption allegations, there are reports that federal government people are there talking to them. 
There are also moves by for example one of the opposition parties, the DAP, in the Sarawak legislative assembly to table a motion for example that UMNO should not be able to bring its brand of politics to Sarawak. 
So whatever is going on there certainly there are state dimensions to it, but the background of the federal election result is definitely what is making it particularly polarised and particularly volatile at the moment.

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