Today marks the official celebration of Head of State Tun Pehin Sri Abdul Taib Mahmud’s 85th birthday.
He first delved into politics when he was only in his 20’s. On July 22, 1963, at the age of 27, he became the youngest man to ever be appointed as a state minister in Sarawak’s political history.
He was one of Sarawak’s first six Cabinet ministers, led by then Chief Minister Tan Sri Stephen Kalong Ningkan.
He served as a federal minister in numerous portfolios over a period of 13 years and as the fourth chief minister of Sarawak for 33 years from 1981 to 2014.
Taib’s policies and leadership for over three decades have helped to mould and transform Sarawak into what it is today, while still preserving and upholding the unique essence and values of Sarawakians.
This year marks his seventh year as Sarawak’s seventh Head of State, or Yang di-Pertua Negeri, having been sworn in on March 1, 2014.
During his tenure, he has overseen the service of two chief ministers, namely the late Pehin Sri Adenan Satem and now Datuk Patinggi Abang Johari Tun Openg.
Personal life and early years
Taib was born on May 21, 1936 in Miri and he is the eldest of 10 children. He is of Melanau descent.
With regard to his academic background, he underwent his early schooling at a Malay school before enrolling in St Joseph’s Primary School in Miri. After that, he continued his education at St Joseph’s Secondary School in Kuching.
He demonstrated brilliant scholastic performance in his Higher School Certificate examination.
This achievement earned him a Colombo Plan Scholarship to further his studies at the University of Adelaide in South Australia, where he graduated with a Bachelor of Law.
On Jan 13, 1959, he married Laila Chalecki, a Polish Muslim woman. Sadly, she passed away due to cancer on April 29, 2009.
He has four children, namely Jamilah Taib Murray, Datuk Seri Mahmud Abu Bekir Taib, Datuk Seri Sulaiman Abdul Rahman Taib, and Datuk Hanifah Hajar Taib.
Then, on Dec 18, 2010, Taib married Syrian-born Ragad Waleed Alkurdi (Toh Puan Datuk Patinggi Ragad Kurdi Taib).
Policies and achievements
Especially during his 33 years as chief minister, Taib demonstrated that he is not only a visionary leader but also one who speaks through action.
When he first assumed the role of chief minister, Sarawak was vastly different from what it is today. Back then, Sarawak was one of the poorest states in the nation, facing a stagnant economy and a turbulent political situation.
One of the vital policies introduced by Taib was politics of development. This shifted the focus to development and economic prosperity for the state. In addition, politics of development led to the drastic reduction in the incidence of poverty in Sarawak.
As a result of his policy of development, the state’s Gross Domestic Product growth exceeded the national average in 1995.
In order to balance urban-rural development, he also endorsed town planning, natural resources planning, large-scale plantations, and native customary rights land development.
One of his brainchild projects is the Sarawak Corridor of Renewable Energy, which was introduced in 2008 to diversify the state’s economy.
Throughout Taib’s tenure, Sarawak certainly saw dramatic and positive changes in its political and economic circumstances. He also placed great emphasis on equality and education.
Furthermore, he managed to discipline and facilitate the cooperation of leaders from different political parties to reach a common political consensus.
Unity: The foundation of Sarawak’s stability
Among the core aspects strongly advocated by Taib is unity and harmony. He has described unity among Sarawakians as the main thrust and cornerstone of peace and stability in the state.
Time and time again, he has reminded and called on all Sarawakians to remain united despite hailing from diverse cultural, racial, and religious backgrounds.
He has emphasised that the unity enjoyed by Sarawakians must be preserved and protected for the state’s uninterrupted development.
“Sarawak has rightly earned a reputation as a peaceful state where people live in unity and harmony in spite of differences in ethnicity and religion.
“The state has truly embraced cultural diversity, unity, and harmony, which enabled the people to focus their time and energy on development,” he said in his Chinese New Year address earlier in February this year.
On the whole, Taib has undeniably brought about significant transformation to the state and people of Sarawak, leaving a lasting legacy to be remembered and treasured for decades to come.