By Joseph Tawie
COMMENT All eyes are on Chief Minister Abdul Taib Mahmud's beard. In Sarawak, the length of the veteran politician's beard is an indication that the state polls could be called soon.
It is an open secret that when the chief minister's beard grows to a certain point, he would be looking for “ilham” or inspiration on when to hold the election.
Athough there is still a 12-month window for the next election, political parties in Sarawak are not taking any risk with regard to Taib's beard or his inspiration.
In view of this, both Barisan Nasional and Pakatan Rakyat are already making election preparations, with their leaders travelling the length and breadth of the state, organising various functions.
On the BN front, its state assemblymen have started announcing funds for various development projects.
Also not prepared to be caught with its pants down, the Election Commission has started to train personnel for the coming state polls.
Pundits, who are also keeping a close eye on Taib's beard, believe that the state elections could be called towards the end of the year, while there are those who predict that it might be held as early as August.
BN minister: We need to win big
Speaking on condition of anonymity, a political secretary to the chief minister said the federal government’s five-year 10th Malaysia Plan (10MP), which starts in the middle of this year, will see massive development funds being dished out throughout the nation with special attention given to Sarawak’s Corridor Renewal Energy (SCORE).
Tenders for mega projects such as the Bakun road to the proposed Murum Dam, the Bintulu/Tunoh/Baleh/Kotai road and Kapit/Song/Sibu road will be out soon. The three trunk roads are expected to cost close to RM2 billion.
There are also several major projects which are to be implemented under the 10MP in other parts of Sarawak, for which funds amounting to RM3.4 billion had been announced by the Rural and Regional Development Minister Shafie Apdal.
The state BN headquarters has also issued a reminder to its four component parties -- Parti Pesaka Bumiputra Bersatu (PBB), Sarawak United People’s Party (SUPP), Sarawak Progressive Democratic Party (SPDP) and Parti Rakyat Sarawak (PRS) -- to get their machinery ready.
“These are not only tell-tale signs that the election is around the corner but is also an overall effort of the state BN to ensure that the voters do not run away from them,” said a veteran politician close to the chief minister.
There is little doubt that BN will win the state election, but Shafie in a recent visit cautioned against being complacent.
“We need to work harder to ensure we will win in a big way,” he had said.
The minister's fear is understandable. While PBB and PRS are free of internal problems, the situation is not exactly peaceful in SPDP and SUPP and this could undermine their performance in the election.
Personality clashes and broken promises
The problem in SPDP revolves around a clash of personalities, policy implementation and broken promises. Tension started brewing last March when certain leaders wanted to expand SPDP to Peninsular Malaysia, but this was strongly opposed by another faction.
The latter felt that SPDP should focus on strengthening its position in Sarawak first.
Another important factor that led to the squabble was the rumoured intention of deputy president Peter Nyarok to resign to pave the way for treasurer Tiong King Sing to take over during the party's triennial general assembly last December.
At least half of the party’s supreme council members did not want Tiong to be deputy president, so they came up with another list to challenge president William Mawan and those in the president’s list.
However, in order to avoid being challenged, Mawan called for a status quo. They agreed and Sylvester Enteri was to remain as secretary-general.
But after the party election, Enteri was sacked and this triggered four state assemblymen, including Enteri and one MP, to walk out of the supreme council meeting.
They have refused to bury the hatchet, saying they will not return as long as Mawan, Nyarok and Tiong remained in the party.
The crisis in SUPP
As for SUPP, the party has been bogged down by a power struggle. The “Dudong branch” issue, for example, has been a thorn in its flesh for the past three years without any sign of it being resolved. In fact, it has gotten from bad to worse.
While one section of the party wanted to form the branch, another group opposed it
When SUPP president George Chan failed to solve the sticky situation, some 28 branches requested for an extraordinary general meeting, setting the stage for a major clash between the supporters of
Bawang Assan state assemblyman Wong Soon Koh and Dudong state assemblyman Soon Choon Teck.
This protracted crisis is bound to have an impact on state seats in the Rajan basin. Based on the previous elections, the party is expected to face an uphill task in seats like Repok, Dudong, Pelawan and Bawang Assan.
SUPP has already lost Meradong and Bukit Assek to DAP in the last election. Elsewhere, the party also lost Kidurong, Batu Lintang, Kota Santosa, Padungan, Pending and Engkilili.
These are some of the issues which Taib is pondering about while his beard grows, and when the inspiration strikes, the chief minister will be all set for a shave.