Speculation as to who will be the next chief minister of Sarawak started making the rounds immediately after the sudden passing of incumbent Adenan Satem yesterday afternoon.
Some mooted that Works Minister Fadillah Yusof could be appointed to the post. But the name that popped up the most is that of Deputy Chief Minister Abang Johari Openg.
However, it should be noted that Fadillah is not a state assemblyperson and he would have to contest in a by-election, and win, before being considered for the post.
“During Adenan’s tenure Abang Johari was the right-hand man.
“Adenan had shown that he favours Abang Johari to succeed him,” Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia professor Faisal Hazis told Malaysiakini.
Other pundits such as University of Tasmania’s James Chin, Universiti Malaysia Sarawak’s (Unimas) Jeniri Amir and Penang Institute fellow Wong Chin Huat agreed that Abang Johari is in the running to head the state government.
This would not be the first time Abang Johari was touted as the next chief minister.
He was previously one of the front runners for the job, long before Adenan’s surprise ascension in February 2014.
However, just as it was in 2014, Abang Johari has a major obstacle standing in the way – former chief minister and current governor Abdul Taib Mahmud.
“I suspect that from behind the scenes, Taib alone will decide Adenan’s replacement,” Chin said.
‘Taib should listen to PBB’
Some, like Jeniri, feel this should not be the case and that Taib should listen to whoever is chosen by PBB – the main BN party in Sarawak.
However as governor, he has the final say over who is the next chief minister.
It is believed that Taib dropped Abang Johari in 2014 because of a past falling out between the two.
Whether or not history would repeat itself is currently uncertain.
“If Taib doesn’t want to rock the boat in PBB, then he will appoint Abang Johari,” said Faisal, noting the deputy president’s popularity in the party.
However, Faisal said, if the governor still does not trust Abang Johari, then he might choose someone he had groomed in the past – Awang Tengah Ali Hassan.
Awang Tengah was allegedly offered the chief minister post in 2014 but had turned down the opportunity, prompting Taib to choose Adenan instead.
But appointing the PBB senior vice-president as chief minister now could divide the party, where the members are widely in support of Abang Johari.
Awang Tengah himself has expressed support for Abang Johari to be chief minister.
“He deserves the position. He deserves it,” Awang Tengah was quoted as saying by Borneo Post in May last year.
Uggah the third choice
There is however a third choice for Taib to choose from, another deputy chief minister – Douglas Uggah Embas.
“The rationale is to have a Dayak leader to win back the Dayak voters, especially after the recent Federal Court’s decision against Native Customary Rights land,” Faisal said.
A message which was circulated on WhatsApp yesterday had also named Uggah as acting chief minister, although the state government denied this.
As for Fadillah, Jeniri said the 54-year-old PBB Youth chief still has a long career ahead of him.
Wong said that besides having to be in the good grace of Taib, the new chief minister must also please two other parties.
“First of all are the Sarawakian voters. They are basically asking for more autonomy for the state.
“Second is the federal government. Umno is asking you (the new CM) to be obedient to it, not to bring too much problems to the federal government and to deliver the support of the people,” said the Penang Institute fellow.
Adenan passed away yesterday, 16 days shy of his 73rd birthday. He was laid to rest after Zohor prayers this afternoon.