Chief minister's political and economic legacies

WHEN Sarawak's Chief Minister Abdul Taib Mahmud retires, he will be passing on a stronghold state to the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition, and a strong party to his successor.

Prime Minister Najib Razak had, in 2009, called Sarawak and Sabah BN's "fixed deposit" states.

Mr Taib's Parti Pesaka Bumiputera Bersatu (PBB), or United Bumiputera Heritage Party, has 14 seats in the federal Parliament, the second highest number for BN after Umno's 88. The PBB today can boast a record seven ministers and deputy ministers in Cabinet.

Despite a big swing towards the opposition in last May's general election, BN parties in Sarawak led by PBB delivered 25 of the 31 parliamentary seats contested. The 25 seats form nearly a fifth of the 133 held by BN in Parliament.

Of Malaysia's 13 states, Sarawak is the only one that does not have a single Umno branch.

Mr Taib's critics call him the Brown Rajah, a mischievous play on White Rajah, which was used to describe Britain's Brooke family, which ran Sarawak as a private fiefdom between 1841 and 1941.

Sarawak, Malaysia's biggest state in terms of land size, has 2.5 million people from 27 ethnic backgrounds. The five biggest groups are the Ibans, Malays, Chinese, Bidayuhs and Melanaus, according to the 2012 Sarawak Statistics Bulletin.

Muslims form about a third of the population, including the Malays and members of Mr Taib's Melanaus. Christians form more than 40 per cent, with many Ibans among them.

Compared to his political legacy, Mr Taib's economic legacy is perhaps not as sterling.

While he did boost Sarawak's economy, his divvying up of the rich timber and oil-and-gas assets of the state has led to accusations that these benefited mostly his family and cronies.

His family is linked to a number of listed companies, including the flagship Cahya Mata Sarawak Bhd.

Shares of these companies tumbled last week on news that Mr Taib is stepping down.

A glimpse of the family's wealth was given last week in an ongoing court case involving the messy divorce of a son, Datuk Seri Mahmud Abu Bekir.

An accountant working for Mr Mahmud's former wife told the court that Mr Taib's son had between RM976 million and RM1.39 billion (between S$372 million and S$530 million) in assets, The Star newspaper reported.

The jewellery of Mr Taib's second wife often draws the attention of the media and his critics. He married Ms Ragad Kurdi Taib, a Syrian in her 30s, in 2010 after his first wife died in April 2009.

BN'S 'FIXED DEPOSIT' STATES

• Sarawak Chief Minister Abdul Taib Mahmud's PBB has 14 seats in the federal Parliament, the second highest number for BN after Umno's 88. The PBB has a record seven ministers and deputy ministers in Cabinet.

• BN parties in Sarawak led by PBB delivered 25 of the 31 parliamentary seats contested. The 25 seats form nearly a fifth of the 133 held by BN in Parliament.

• Of Malaysia's 13 states, Sarawak is the only one that does not have a single Umno branch.


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