Sporting icons describe Abdul Taib as a ‘generational leader’

Abdul Taib Mahmud

Two Sarawakian sporting icons, Datuk Pandelela Rinong Pamg and Azlan Iskandar, paid tribute to the late Tun Abdul Taib Mahmud, who passed away at a private hospital in Kuala Lumpur at 4.40am today.

Abdul Taib, the state’s longest-serving chief minister – from March 26, 1981, to Feb 28, 2014 – would have turned 88 on May 21.

Two-time Olympic medallist Pandelela said she was shocked to learn of the news.

“I knew he was unwell, but I had hoped that he was getting better. My condolences to his family,” said Pandelela.

“He has done many great things for the state. For many people my age, when we think of Sarawak, he is among the first people we think of, as he has been a leader for over 40 years.

“It will be hard to replace him. I met him a few times, and I would like to say thank you for everything, as the state government has been supportive of me and of the other athletes.”

Former Asian squash champion Azlan said the news hit him hard, as Abdul Taib was a “generational leader”.

“He was a massive figure. For many Sarawakians, he was the only leader they knew,” said Azlan, who is the deputy president of the Squash Racquets Association of Malaysia.

“He contributed massively to the state’s development and helped stabilise the political scene with his leadership.

“I met him a few times during my playing career and received great support from the state government. I was also blessed to have received some state awards. He will be missed.”

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim expressed the government’s condolences to Abdul Taib’s family and the people of Sarawak.

“Malaysia, especially the people of Sarawak, have lost a respectable figure… a statesman,” said Anwar.

“His service and devotion to the country and Sarawak will be remembered forever.”

After stepping down as chief minister, the Miri-born Abdul Taib succeeded Tun Abang Muhammad Salahuddin Abang Barieng as the Yang di-Pertua Negeri (governor) on March 1, 2014.

His tenure as head of state ended on Jan 26. He was succeeded by Tan Sri Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar.

Abdul Taib was the last surviving member of the first post-independence state Cabinet in 1963.

He was 27 when he was appointed state communications and works minister under the leadership of Tan Sri Stephen Kalong Ningkan, the first chief minister of Sarawak.

He also served in the federal government as the general planning and socio-economic research minister, primary industries minister, defence minister, and Federal Territories minister.

The Sarawak government has declared two days of mourning and said flags would be flown at half-mast today and tomorrow.

A state funeral will be held at the Sarawak Legislative Assembly complex tomorrow.