Commodities-Rich Sarawak’s Chief Minister Taib to Step Down

Abdul Taib Mahmud plans to retire as chief minister of Sarawak, after running Malaysia’s commodities-rich eastern state for more than three decades.

Taib, 77, intends to inform Sarawak’s head of state to of his intention to resign, Malaysia’s official Bernama news agency reported, citing the chief minister. The decision comes seven months after the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission formed a multi-agency task force to expedite investigations into claims of graft. Taib has denied corruption allegations, and press reports say he may seek to become the state’s governor.

During his 33-year rule of Malaysia’s biggest state, Taib’s government handed out concessions for logging and supported the federal government’s mega projects, including construction of the country’s largest hydroelectric dam. Oil palm plantations spread as loggers rolled back the frontiers of Borneo’s rain forest, home to nomadic people and rare wildlife such as orangutans and proboscis monkeys.

Some stocks linked to his relatives fell after the Berita Harian newspaper first reported on Feb. 5 that Taib planned to retire as chief minister and become the state’s governor. Cahya Mata Sarawak Bhd., a construction and building materials maker, rose 3.8 percent today after declining 8.6 percent last week after the report.

‘More Powerful’

“It’s a misconception to think he’s really retiring,” said James Chin, professor of political science at the Malaysian campus of Australia’s Monash University. “When he moves up to governor, he becomes even more powerful. Certain things need his signature. He appoints the chief minister. All mining leases must be signed off by him.”

Taib and his allies control 25 Sarawak seats in Malaysia’s national parliament. That’s enough to ensure the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition falls from power should they ever choose to switch support to the opposition, said Chin. Prime Minister Najib Razak’s alliance was returned to power in May 2013 by its narrowest margin since independence in 1957.

Taib told Bernama he would step down from his current position by the end of this month. He is Malaysia’s longest-serving chief minister, in power longer than Mahathir Mohamad, who retired after 22 years as prime minister in 2003.

Important Role

“Taib is not really gone from Sarawak politics,” Ibrahim Suffian, a political analyst at the Merdeka Center for Opinion Research, said by phone. “From behind the scenes or even as the new governor, he will play an important role including handling economic issues. Most important now is who will be Taib’s successor.” Opposition parties have made some inroads in Sarawak in recent years, he said.

Taib had doubled up as the state’s finance minister, and minister for planning and resource management, according to his official website. He’s also president of Parti Pesaka Bumiputera Bersatu, or PBB, and state chairman of Barisan Nasional, Malaysia’s ruling political coalition headed by Prime Minister Najib Razak.

PBB met at the weekend and gave Taib a mandate to nominate his successor, the Star reported, citing party Chairman Amar Asfia Awang Nassar.

Local media, including the Star, have named three candidates short-listed by Taib to replace him. They are the party’s deputy president Amar Abang Johari Openg, senior vice president Amar Awang Tengah Ali Hasan and information chief Adenan Satem.

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