Mariam Mokhtar | November7, 2013 | The Ant Daily
OUTSPOKEN: If Sarawak Chief Minister Tan Sri Taib Mahmud can sound like the voice of reason, then it is clear that Umno-Baru is in terminal decline.
When the verdict on the Allah word issue was announced last month, Taib’s speech resonated with many Malaysians when he said, “To us (Sarawakians) there is no issue. We have lived with people of different races and different religions for many decades, even before Malaysia.”
Taib is a shrewd politician who has the benefit of age and experience. He appears to be more in touch with his grassroots supporters, unlike Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak who panders to extremists.
Taib waxed lyrical about Sarawakians being tolerant, and he dismissed the Allah ruling when he declared that it would not be binding on Sabah and Sarawak.
In a deliberate snub to the three judges of the Court of Appeal, he said, “We cannot alter the status quo in Sarawak.” He maintained that the “spirit of tolerance” among the Sarawak people was high and that the multi-racial state represented stability and harmony.
On visits to the longhouse, Taib said he would source a Muslim cook to prepare his dishes using the ingredients which the longhouse residents had bought. His childhood at the mission school had prepared him for being with Christians and he was not perturbed when they made the sign of the cross, or prayed.
Taib may have been disloyal by having a dig at Najib, and dishing out snide, patronising comments about tolerance. Najib had just opened the Parti Pesaka Bumiputera Bersatu (PBB) convention when Taib made his remarks.
Sarawak is the fourth most populous state in Malaysia. The Ibans form the biggest ethnic grouping with 30% and the Chinese, Malays and Melanau represent 24%, 23% and 6% respectively.
In terms of religion, Sarawak is the only country in Malaysia with a Christian majority (44%), with the Muslims in second place (30%).
Taib is a Melanau of Muslim descent and he has performed a minor miracle keeping Umno-Baru at bay, preventing the importation into Sarawak of Umno-Baru’s religious intolerance, their bigotries and their Ketuanan superiority. Taib has seen the deleterious effects of the mass Malayanisation and Islamicisation on the peninsula.
Najib only dreams of “1Malaysia”, but Sarawak has managed to display racial unity with its unique “1Sarawak” version.
Taib is dependent on the support of the Christians of Sarawak; so is Taib a hero or just another hypocrite? Are his remarks about the Allah ruling just the means to an end, and yet another charade?
Taib implied that the West Malaysians were an intolerant lot. If tolerance is a virtue, then Sarawakians must be extremely forgiving and tolerant, as they seem able to excuse Taib’s corruption, nepotism and cronyism. Or is Taib mocking the people of Sarawak?
Taib insinuated that Muslims in Sarawak are smarter than their West Malaysian peers, because they are not easily confused or enraged by Christians using the word Allah.
This Allah debacle started in 1986, when former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad and his Cabinet ruled that several words could not be used by Malaysian Christians.
To keep Christians in check and to whip the conservative Muslims into a frenzy to defend Islam, the word Allah is brought out every few years, either before the Umno-Baru internal elections or the Sarawak state election, when Taib would suddenly be very vocal about protecting the rights of Sarawak Christians.
If Sarawak were to declare its independence from the union of Malaysia, Taib would be able to keep all of the oil wealth. He could revoke previous agreements and nationalise the oil industry. The neglected communities could be rebuilt with the replenished coffers. Putrajaya need not be blamed for withholding payment.
So, what is stopping Taib from branching out on his own?
Is he worried about the security and defence of Sarawak? Aid should not be a worry as many foreign nations will rush to invest in Sarawak. He already enjoys many ties with Singapore and developed countries.
Taib is wary about independence because he will suddenly find that as a Muslim-Melanau he would be part of a minority group. The other ethnic communities would make heavy demands on him. Despite the lack of interference from Putrajaya, he must wonder if he could survive as easily.
The downside for Putrajaya of an independent Sarawak would be the loss of the large block of MPs which enables the federal government to retain power in perpetuity. Development in peninsular Malaysia would be curtailed if income from oil-rich Sarawak were no longer available.
By 2016, Sarawak must hold its state elections, but before that day approaches, Taib must consider his retirement plans. He would like to make his influence complete and official, perhaps by becoming the Governor of Sarawak. So, we must ask ourselves if Taib is sincere in his defence of the Christians in Sarawak, or only protecting his political interests?
Mariam Mokhtar is "a Malaysian who dares to speak the truth."