When news came this morning that Abang Johari would become the 6th chief minister of Sarawak, people around me asked me this question. I asked them back, “Why not him?”
Talking about political experience and seniority, Abang Jo is the perfect candidate for the top administrative post.
But, there are some reservations among the people in the state.
In the past, especially during the 33 years Taib Mahmud was the CM, Abang Jo was often excluded from the core of power despite the fact he won every election in his Satok state seat and was an influential leader, be it in his party or among the grassroots.
Some say Abang Jo was being sidelined, while others claim he had not had a successful political career for so many years that he had to lean towards Umno and quietly prepare himself for a comeback.
But because of a flurry of unverified rumors about him, some Sarawakians remain skeptical of Abang Jo, which I think is not really fair to him.
It remained much this way until about three years ago when Adenan Satem took over as the CM and began to appreciate him and entrusted him with heavy responsibilities. It is never an overstatement that Adenan played a pivotal role in the resurgence of Abang Jo’s political career.
After winning the state election with a landslide last year, Adenan appointed three deputies, one of whom Abang Jo. Indeed, the promotion was a much deserved, belated political compensation for Abang Jo.
Even after Adenan’s departure, if we were to look around the state’s political situation, honestly there isn’t anyone more qualified to succeed Adenan than Abang Jo, although he isn’t the best candidate in BN’s core leadership. This, to a certain extent, is a belated blessing and recognition for him, a unique opportunity left behind by Adenan unexpectedly for him to prove his worth.
There are reasons why Abang Jo has managed to win the blessings of the state and federal BN leaderships to become the 6th Sarawak chief minister.
Where political experience is concerned, Abang Johari is not just a 9-term Satok state assemblyman, he is also the second in command in PBB, being the party’s deputy president. In the state cabinet, he is not only one of the deputy CM’s, but is also taking charge of the state’s tourism, arts and culture, as well as housing and urbanization portfolios. Appointing him as the CM comes less controversial than the other named candidate Awang Tengah, considering his position in the state political hierarchy.
In PBB, Abang Jo is in firm command of grassroots support, which is of tremendous importance during the transitional period. What Sarawak needs now is a firm and resolved leader, someone in the likes of Abang Johari.
Under the leadership of Adenan, almost everyone in the state has been embracing the “Sarawak dream” in boosted spirit. The state needs to further consolidate the unity among its multicultural people, especially in view of the fact Sarawak has emerged as a state the federal government cannot afford to downplay, thanks to Adenan’s bold efforts and unwavering attitude.
Moreover, Sarawak has long been perceived as the ruling coalition’s most dependable vote bank, and the federal BN leadership to a very large extent needs to treat the state with due respect in order to reaffirm its hold at the national level, and would provide whatsoever political facility it could afford on political considerations when it comes to things like rights and allocations.
After the passing of Adenan, Sarawak needs to be more cautious now than ever to check the infiltration of federal forces, and a successor who has the ability to keep things under control must therefore be picked.
Even though Abang Johari has once been seen as pro-Umno, during Adenan’s time he has on several occasions proclaimed that he would similarly reject extreme politicians from West Malaysia. He even reprimanded accusations that he had attempted to bring Umno into the state, showing that he indeed wants to have a complete cleavage from Umno.
Many may not be aware that among the Malay politicians in the state, Abang Jo is one of the very few who would make annual allocations to Chinese primary schools and independent Chinese high schools in his constituency. In Satok where he has been the elected rep for nine terms, Abang Jo has earned the overwhelming support of local Chinese voters although they only make up around 20% of the electorate.
Additionally, Abang Jo’s wife is a Chinese Sarawakian adopted by a Malay family in her childhood. Abang Jo has been working very hard in recent years to strengthen his relationship with the Chinese community, and his hard work has been paid off pretty well.
At an advanced age of 67, Abang Johari is assuming office under very high expectations and pressure after Adenan’s three-year effort pushed Sarawak to a pinnacle of success unseen before. Sarawakians aside, indeed the whole Malaysia is watching him, and eager to appraise his performance.
Adenan has set a very good model, and the only option Abang Jo now has is to carry on with this legacy. He not only must move forward decisively, but must also broaden the way as he progresses.
Abang Jo will inevitably come under public skepticism, as when Adenan first took over whether he would live in Taib Mahmud’s shadow. It looks like Abang Jo is set to kick off his CM life in the shadow of Adenan Satem as well.
It is still way too early and too arbitrary to foretell now whether Abang Jo will eventually outperform his immediate predecessor. Perhaps we should just leave it to Abang Jo himself to prove his worth over time.