KUALA LUMPUR – Datuk Amar Abang Johari Abang Openg has big shoes to fill as Sarawak chief minister after Tan Sri Adenan Satem, but political observers are confident the 66-year-old has what it takes to lead Malaysia’s largest state.
One of Adenan’s three deputies until yesterday, the nine-term Satok assemblyman popularly known as Abang Jo is a “tested leader”, Universiti Malaysia Sarawak Associate Prof Jeniri Amir told Malay Mail Online when contacted.
“It is no doubt that Abang Johari will be able to lift the legacy of Adenan because he understands the people of Sarawak through and through.
“Like Adenan, who placed the people first in all government efforts, I am certain Abang Jo will also do the same because he had held various leadership positions in the party and government since 1981, and in all of them, he did exceptionally well,” Jeniri said.
Abang Johari took charge of two state ministries in Adenan’s Cabinet — housing and urban development as well as tourism, arts and culture — after their Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition swept to victory in last year’s May 7 state election.
Prior to that, he was in the state regional and community development ministry and then worked his way through the state industrial development ministry.
Perhaps the only area where he lacks is federal exposure, compared to the last two Sarawak chief ministers, Adenan and Tun Abdul Taib Mahmud, the latter who is now state governor.
However, Jeniri does not count that as a shortcoming, saying having a good set of leadership skills and rapport with federal ministers would suffice.
“In this matter, you can tick both aspects since Abang Johari is a good leader and has almost 30 years’ experience working with federal ministers. Hence, it should not be a problem to work with the federal government to get things done in the state,” he said.
Sarawak’s earlier chief ministers before Taib too did not hold any federal office, bar his predecessor, Tun Abdul Rahman Yakub, who then set a trend for the rest to gain exposure to working as a member of the federal government.
But through all their time in office, Sarawak’s chief ministers have been strong proponents of keeping their state’s integrity separate from the federal government. It was only in the last few years when Adenan came to power that he pushed the envelope further by pressing for greater autonomy.
As successor, Abang Jo is expected to continue the decentralisation initiative and other policies crafted by Adenan’s administration, of which he was a senior member.
“He is a leader who knows what is needed for the people and like Adenan, he is expected to focus on development and of course champion whatever that has been fought along by his predecessor,” Jeniri said.
Universiti Malaysia Sabah political scientist Lee Kuok Tiung expressed similar views to Jeniri, but said while Abang Johari was the right person to succeed Adenan, the latter’s way of “communication” might be different.
“The way he speaks, his speech and approach to negotiate matters [might differ from Adenan] but he will be a good leader [given that] he is among the most senior PBB members and politicians in Sarawak, let alone a respected one,” he told Malay Mail Online.
Lee too said that Abang Johari would continue to Adenan’s advocacy of Sarawakian rights.
“But his outspokenness will depend on the willingness of the media to give him coverage… hopefully the media will treat him with the same privilege that was given to Adenan,” he said.
Both Lee and Jeniri also rubbished talk that Abang Johari’s rapport with Umno leaders is because he is the Malay nationalist party’s “man” in Sarawak, saying it was a “political story” created by critics to undermine his appointment to chief minister.
“In politics, it is normal to hear this kind of stories but anyway I don’t think Abang Johari will incline towards Umno and be its ‘yes-man’ as it will be a political suicide for him knowing that 91 per cent of the people of Sarawak do not want Umno in the state,” Jeniri said.
Oh Ei Sun, Senior Fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore, said while Abang Johari has what it takes to succeed Adenan, only time will tell if he could receive the same support as his predecessor.
“Adenan was also not quite looked highly upon when he took over in 2014. So I think give Abang Johari a few months to see how [it goes].
“Abang Johari would have to live up to the high and popular expectation Adenan had created in Sarawak,” he said when contacted.
Adenan, who died of heart failure on January 11 aged 72, had led the Sarawak BN to its biggest win in the 2016 state election, sweeping 72 seats out of 82 in the state legislative assembly. His Parti Pesaka Bumiputera Bersatu alone claimed 45 seats.
– Malay Mail