“You cannot make a bid for power and after you fail say: … ah, we are together… let’s share power. Heads I win, tails you lose” - Taib Mahmud
The line above is not something I made up. They were actually said by Taib Mahmud, the Chief Minister of Sarawak, in 1991 after PBDS, a splinter political party seek to be readmitted to the main coalition that make up the government following an unsuccessful attempt to overthrow him.
The series of events of this period in Sarawak’s history saw the State Legislative Assembly dissolved in March 1987 before the plan to set a motion for vote-of-no-confidence against the Chief Minister led by the majority of the State Legislative members could begin to call for a more democratic process of election.
What was more surprising was the lead conspirator behind this was Taib’s own uncle and mentor, Rahman Yaakub.
With so much intrigue with conspiracies, political alliances and conflicts, I felt that this event in the State’s history has the kind of stuff films are made of - at least the dark, intense and gritty type of film with stadium speeches and behind closed door shouting- similar to the Star Wars saga family feud turning into intergalactic war.
I got the idea to write the story from the time that I spent State Library to work on my assignments for this writing course. At the Special Section of the library, I found two great resources, The Plot That Failed by Yu Loong Ching (1989) and The Political Saga by James Ritchie (1991) that documents this event. These materials are useful resources as they were written close to the time of the events and for large parts are made of compilation of newspaper clippings, election results and party manifestos.
The project’s question is how would I adapt the event into a good screenplay?
Although, this may sound a little adolescent, I will start by giving the film a working title. I find it difficult to write without one single theme that encompasses everything.
As the event happened 20 years ago, the keywords on the event that people would still be familiar today are: Taib, Rahman and Ming Court Affair. With that in mind I shall call the working title, Taib and Rahman: The Ming Court Affair to make it relevant and effective.
The title might have not struck a resonance to the international cinemagoers – like Star Wars – but I think it suits the purpose and audience.
My intention in making the film is not to get awards or break box office records but to combine entertainment and history lessons in a screenplay. The film would suit smaller screening particularly in the remote rural areas of the State and for groups interested in understanding more about politics in this region.
The next step in adapting the event into a screenplay is to arrange and edit them in the framework of the three-act structure that will give it a clear beginning, middle and an end (Green 2010). This is done before I add in the details like sequences, scenes and shots of Taib and Rahman: Ming Court Affair.
Act 1: Set up
The first act functions as a set up and point of entry to the screenplay. This part of the sequence will focus on the main characters of the film, Taib – who will be the point where we see most of the events – and Rahman.
Early in the screenplay, I want to show the relationship that they share as uncle and nephew. In the books that I have cite as resources earlier, little is said about this subject.
There are signs that the two were very close in their younger days. Rahman had affectionately reminisce that he used to babysit and carry Taib – ten years his junior – on his back when was a child. He also note that it was he who advised his nephew to take law instead of medicine as the profession was much more required in the State at the time.
In the first act I will use these information to reconstruct younger versions of the two to give the audience insight on the relationship that they had. This will provide a back-story and sets up the substructure that highlight how far their relationship soured at the peak of the Ming Court conflict.
The first sequences will follow a young Taib with scenes of him getting a scholarship, pursuing his studies as a Law Student in the University of Adelaide, meeting his wife Laila and his return to Sarawak. As the screenplay move forward, I will continue to develop the relationship of Taib and Rahman through their correspondence and the cordial and trusting relationship when they meet. Th first act continues as Rahman becomes the Chief Minister and Taib holds ministerial posts with the federal government.
Having all this in the first 25-30 minutes means that the beginning will be fast paced with short sequences and scenes.
Act 2: Conflicts
The second act is where the story builds.
I have identified that the story between the two builds up when Taib was rushed back to the State to take over from Rahman who stepped down as Chief Minister following a heart surgery in London.
It is here that we first see the conspiracy style of Rahman as he instructed State Legislative member, Sharifah Mordiah to step down from her seat to pave the way for a by-election, signaling Taib’s return to the State’s political scene.
Rahman retreats to taking the ceremonial position as Governor, with his nephew sworn in as the 4th Chief Minister of Sarawak.
This event, sown the seed of conflict between the, as Taib decides to do things his way and choose to ignore Rahman’s ‘advices’. In the screenplay, I will show example of this happening, such when Rahman criticize the Federal government for the delay and scale down of the Bintulu Port in 1983 at its opening ceremony after which Taib staged a walkout.
Soon after Rahman resigned as Governor citing health issue as the reason although it was an open secret that it was because of his diagreement with Taib.
In the second act I will also introduce a new complication: the disharmony in one of the coalition party, SNAP, in Taib’s Barisan Nasional. The conflict begun when SNAP, a predominantly Dayak party appointed a Chinese as its president. Because of this, member of the party, Leo Moggie, Daniel Tajem and James Masing left SNAP and formed a splinter party, PBDS with Leo as its president.
Rahman took this opportunity to create an alliance with Leo and his new party with an end to overthrow a common enemy Taib who is perceived as ignoring the plight of the Dayak for the Chinese. The alliance will be written in the screenplay as they all meet at Ming Court Hotel in Kuala Lumpur.
At the scene of the meeting, Rahman is confident. His past as Chief Minister and Governor and his cleverness/ruthlessness in removing his own predecessor Tawi Sli and appointment of Taib made the other conspirators even more trust in him. With PBDS Rahman had the support of popular Dayak leaders.
The plan was set in motion happens when 4 of the State’s cabinet ministers resigns. Taib receives a Telex from 26 out of 48 State Legislative members to resign honorably or face a vote of no confidence.
In the second act, the screenplay, the scenes would move between closed-door conversations, phone calls, press conferences and public speeches. The newspaper statements from both sides will also be prominent.
As the twist and turn develops, I will show Laila, providing essential and much needed counsel and support for his husband. The scene with Taib and his wife will be weaved in subtly with the two listening to P Ramlee – a popular Malaysian singer from the 50s and 60s - together, and sitting for a meal together.
With the person cast for the role, Laila might steal some thunder from all the confusion that his happening around the State’s political scene with her intelligence and demure way together with her habit of driving cars very fast. These lighter scenes are important to give a contrast to the more serious political scenes.
Act 3: Climax and Conclusion
The third act is the climax of the story.
Instead of bowing to the pressure of more than half the State Legislative member pressure to resign, Taib fights back.
In a mood of defiant he appoints new young cabinet ministers whom he knows does not have any link to Rahman. He then called for a fresh election in a month’s time – two months ahead of the next State Legislative seating. In effect the State Legislative Council had to be dissolved.
The sequences that follow will show Taib’s Barisan Nasional, Rahman newly formed party Permas and PBDS on a campaign trail. Rahman is shown calling Taib a weak leader, PBDS members such as Tajem making racial announcement such as “it is time for the Dayak to become generals instead of soldiers” and Taib making the most convincing and clear argument of all that Barisan Nasional stands for “politic of development and not of power”.
The results pour in with scenes of people from all walks of life in the State tuning the radio and ended with the Election Committee General announcing that Barisan Nasional had won the election with 28 seats compared to PBDS and Permas’ 15 and 5 seats.
The scene moves to a long shot showing thousand of his supporters waiting for his house. The Chief Minister arrives in his silver Rolls Royce and soon after we see him being carried on his cabinet minister’s shoulders with a jubilant crowd.
Taib calls for all to accept the results as gentlemen. Rahman retired outside of politics to conduct free religious classes and PBDS continues to be an opposition at State level but align to the government at Federal level for the next few years.