Going through some of the articles on views of the late YTM Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra Alhaj, the first Prime Minister of Malaysia and Father of Malaysia, on the leadership of the Governor, Tun Pehin Sri Haji Abdul Taib Mahmud, who served as the fourth Chief Minister from March 16, 1981 to February 28, 2014, it is obvious that the late Tunku started to train his eyes on Abdul Taib as a young State Cabinet Minister of the first post Independent Sarawak since 1963.
Abdul Taib, a young lawyer, was appointed the Minister of Communication and Works in a six-member State Cabinet, when Sarawak was granted internal self - government by Britain on July 22, 1963 after more 200 years of rule by the White Rajah and the Whitehall.
The late Tunku was very open about his warm relationship with Tun Pehin Sri Haji Abdul Taib Mahmud, who he considered as one of his best friends. Then, he thoroughly believed that Abdul Taib was the best man as the Chief Minister of Sarawak.
The Tunku said Tan Sri Abdul Taib is an ardent believer in a joint political front for Sarawak and has worked hard for the welfare of the people. However, like every political leader, he is not free from political jealousies even within his own party. Many have criticized his leadership style and administration but his party is well supported by the people.
Even SUPP, with its long history in the opposition, accepted the leadership of Tun Pehin Sri Abdul Taib very well. For a long time, SUPP formed a strong unit with PBB as the backbone of the State Government and Barisan Nasional.
The Tunku recalled when Sarawak became Independent in Malaysia in 60s there were many political parties bickering among them. At that time Abdul Taib was the secretary general of Barisan Rakyat Jati Sarawak (BERJASA) formed in 1962. He felt that his party should merge with Parti Negara Sarawak (PANAS), a Malay party formed in 1960, in order to strengthen the position of the Malays.
Abdul Taib worked together with the President of PANAS, Abang Ikhwan Zaini and in 1967, the two parties merged to form Parti Bumiputra. Other parties soon joined them and they made up the Sarawak Alliance, which after the 1970 elections, formed the government.
Then in 1972 Pesaka, the Iban dominated party, decided to merge with Parti Bumiputra and in 1973 Pesaka Bumiputra Bersatu (PBB) was formed. The PBB and SUPP formed the Coalition government, headed by Dato Haji Abdul Rahman Ya’kub, the first in Malaysia, after the 1970 elections. Both coalition parties joined Barisan Nasional in 1974.
The Tunku said Sarawak National Party (SNAP) joined the coalition in 1976 but in the 80s the party split into two factions and a new party called Parti Bansa Dayak Sarawak (PBDS) was formed . PBDS wanted to join the Coalition but SNAP opposed it.
However, Tun Abdul Taib Mahmud, who was then the Chief Minister of Sarawak, felt that Dayaks should not be left out of the mainstream development and by means of a special formula, which he drew to help them, the PBDS gained entry to Barisan Nasional in December 1983.
Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamed, the fourth Prime Minister of Malaysia, in an interview for the Coffeetable book: “Pehin Sri Abdul Taib, visionary builder of Modern Sarawak” observes that Tun Pehin Sri Abdul Taib has a very strong command of the essentials of politics in Sarawak. He managed to get strong support especially from the natives whether they are Muslims or non-Muslims; whether they’re Ibans, Bidayuhs, Melanaus, Orang Ulu and others.
He says it is worthwhile listening to Pehin Sri Abdul Taib rather than do something else not in accord with his perception of things. He has a complete grasp of the situation.
Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamed says Tun Pehin Sri Abdul Taib’s greatest contribution to Malaysia, Sarawak in particular, is his ability to get the people, comprising of different tribes and origins, to work together in the common pursuit for progress and development. It is not an easy thing to keep the people, comprising of about 30 ethnic groups together.
Even, the Chinese, who have always been very independent-minded accept his leadership. Although some tried to pull away, they could never make any significant split to withdraw support from Barisan Nasional being led by Tun Pehin Sri Abdul Taib.
Tun Pehin Sri Abdul Taib’s primary concern, since he took over the helm of the State government on March 26,1981, was to pull Sarawak out of the backwater of development into its mainstream. He was preoccupied with the idea that Sarawak must run faster than other states in order to catch up with their progress and advancement.
Then the rate of poverty was about 60 per cent and unemployment among the people especially youth in villages and longhouses were very high. The demographic pattern of the State was about 80% rural and 20% urban. The situation gave rise to an explosive feeling of dissatisfaction against the government, which was being percieved as pursuing politics of favoritism.
Consequently, instigating racial and communal feelings was the best weapon to win support, though a highly divisive support, in any elections.
He believed the new way forward was to mobilize the people and orientate them towards development. Besides, conscientious efforts must be made to motivate youth to have more confidence in themselves and reinvigorate members of the civil service and synergise their services with the demands of development. It was indeed a tall order.
Clearly, both the Tunku and Dr. Mahathir Mohamed, who were both very influential people in the political life of Tun Pehin Sri Abdul Taib, must have taken note of his early speeches relating to a “ joint political front for Sarawak”.
Tun Pehin Sri Abdul Taib, who was the President of PBB and Chairman of Barisan Nasional Sarawak, during the sittings of the State Legislative Assembly said on DUN Nov. 13, 1986: “Whether we like it or not our lives have been so intertwined by our inter - dependent on each other in various fields, be they in economics, politics and other fields. We have got to make a success of this co-operation. Nothing else is a better alternative in the way we look to our future”.
He believed what ever political views the people entertain, political leaders in particular, must not prevent them from agreeing, as a matter of principle, on the question of development for the people. Unfortunately, politics had gone quite far that some opposition leaders thought that they should continue to harp on development issues to suit their political agenda and score political points on the ground.
“It is time for the people to stop with these petty politics and instead work together in matters of development for the overall progress and prosperity of the people. Those persisting with petty practices in order to score political points will only have themselves to blame if they cannot deliver the goods that they have promised to their constituents. This is the reality of the future.”
In winding a debate duing the sitting of the State Legislative Assembly on DUN May 26, 1988, he said : “Our policies are meant for all people, all sections of the community. This country does not have to be trapped in wrangling between races and groups as we have ample of wealth to be shared by all. It is the problem of how to distribute it. Our politics should not be based on how to deny others and grab as much as possible for ourselves but rather on how to realise the potentials of this country.”
Tun Pehin Sri Abdul Taib believed that politics in Sarawak, like those in the rest of the country, must be based on sincere desire to achieve something to fulfill independence with good economic growth and development that can bring positive changes to the people.
He has been pursuing this line of politics in the form of the politics of development as any other forms of politics, those with a lot of rhetoric or worse empty talks in particular, do not bring any benefits, development benefits in particular to the people, state and country. Only the politics of pragmatism can bring about a transformation that brings improvement and the betterment of life for the people.
Therefore, conscientious efforts must be made to reduce politicking among the people because, in any political fights, it is the people who get confused the most, their line of thinking and attitude will be distracted.
Tun Pehin Sri Abdul Taib, in his speech during a sitting of the State Legislative Assembly on May 18, 1990 said: “Two things, I have been able to learn: Racial and extreme religious practices and politics that tend to divide the people must be fought by all people. These two things cannot be compromised as the development of the future cannot afford to accommodate negative elements”.
He gave this reminder during a sitting of the State Legislative Assembly on May 18, 1991: “This government, being led by me, is obliged to fight against any form of racialism or religious extremism because they are like cancer that saps our energy. We want to put maximum efforts behind our developmental drive. Our development program, which is new and innovative in concept, if successfully implemented, can give maximum impact to the people.
“We must fight against conservative forces or correct any misunderstandings, natural or induced, on the ground. We must introduce new concept of development, which entails new ways of doing things, because we have a commitment to bring the people of Sarawak to the mainstream of development.
Tun Pehin Sri Abdul Taib, in responding to debate that appeared to be bordering on communalism and other sensitive issues, said on May 25, 1993: “This country has no majority from any particular groups of people. Therefore, we should avoid arguing that certain groups can become a majority or certain groups should dominate and there should be politics of dominance of one group over the other groups.”
Admittedly, it is an attractive way of trying to wrestle power but does not provide a guarantee to a smooth development of the future as development must be able to increase the size of wealth and develop a good distribution machinery for the people to benefit from it.
Tun Pehin Sri Abdul Taib’s mammoth task, since he took over the helm of the state government on March 26, 1981 was to propel, reshape and develop Sarawak, with the land surface almost the size of peninsular Malaysia, still under-developed and had small population of 1.5 million people, in order to catch up with the progress and advancement of other states.
However, his problem was compounded by the fact that the small population was scattered in 5,000 pockets of settlements over a wide area. Besides, the State inherited a very poor network of roads. Then, the villages and longhouses were distant apart with the distance of anything between three to 100 miles apart.
Essentially, he must make make conscientious efforts to bring about 30 ethnic and sub-ethnic groups together in the common struggle to nurture goodwill and harmony among them as the cornerstone of progress and advancement of Sarawak towards the year 2020 and beyond. Basically, the political situation must be made healthier, stronger and more stable.
More importantly, he wished to see that justice to all must serve as the prevailing means of serving the people, state and country. The common struggle must be motivated by the desire to preserve the unity and solidarity of the people and ensure that no community should be left out of the mainstream of development.
22 October 2014