ANALYSIS Sarawak Chief Minister Abdul Taib Mahmud’s unexpected announcement yesterday of Special Functions Minister Adenan Satem as the next chief minister, instead of on Saturday as he promised earlier, is seen as a pre-emptive strike to forestall any pressure from Umno.
Taib met Sarawak Yang di-Pertua Negeri Abang Muhamad Salahuddin Abang Barieng at 3pm yesterday and handed over his letter of resignation, effective Feb 28, and informed Abang Muhamad that Adenan would replace him as chief minister.
Adenan (right) will be sworn on March 1, 2014.
A special media conference was held at 3.30pm at the Astana Negeri - three hours before the arrival of Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin - who was apparently sent by Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak to pressure Taib to appoint PBB deputy president Abang Johari Openg as his successor.
“It was an excellent strategy to forestall any pressure from Umno, which wanted its man to be appointed to the most prestigious and powerful post in Sarawak,” said a former politician who served under Taib.
“Since Sarawak is not controlled by Umno, how can it try to influence the Sarawak administration?” he asked.
Adenan, who is PBB publicity chief, was chosen over Abang Johari and PBB senior vice-president Awang Tengah Ali Hassan.
Full mandate for Taib to pick successor
The supreme council members of the PBB at a caucus last week gave Taib the full mandate to pick his successor.
In terms of rank, Abang Johari (right) is the most senior and is also popular among the PBB members, especially among the Dayak members in the Pesaka wing of the party.
Abang Johari owes his post of deputy president post to the support of the Dayak members as well as among the ‘Abang’ Malays.
Humble and approachable, he comes from a well-known family. His father, Abang Openg Abang Sapiee, was the first governor of Sarawak.
Taib during the PBB elections of 1998 encouraged Adenan to contest against Abang Johari for the number two post in the party.
Even with Taib’s support, Adenan was trounced by Abang Johari, all because of the support of the Dayak members in PBB and the Malay ‘Abang’ group. This irked Taib, who saw it as he himself being defeated.
Taib then began to distrust the ‘Abang’ community in his party, remembering also the ‘Ming Court Affair’ of 1987, during which a number of ‘Abang’ in PBB joined forces with Rahman Yakub to topple Taib as the chief minister.
Taib also suspected Abang Johari of being involved in efforts to extend Umno’s influence in Sarawak. All these could be the reasons why Taib did not pick him as his successor.
Then, why did he pick Adenan?
A lawyer by training, Adenan is one of the architects of Taib’s ‘politics of development’. Besides being a brother-in-law of Taib, Adenan has always been very loyal to him, through thick and thin.
From 1972 to 1974, Adenan worked with Taib, who was then Minister of Primary Industries Malaysia, as assistant secretary.
In 1978, he was elected as an assemblyperson, and seven years later Taib appointed Adenan Sarawak’s Assistant Minister for Land Development until 1987 when he was promoted to a full minister in charge of land development and later, to the Sarawak Social Development Ministry and Agriculture and Food Industries Ministry.
Moved to a federal post
In 2004, Adenan moved to the federal cabinet and was appointed Natural Resources and Environment Minister under Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi. However, he resigned before the 2008 parliamentary election to return to Sarawak.
For nearly eight years after this, Adenan was in left in the lowest ebb of his political life, until Taib asked him to contest one of the newly-created seats of Tanjung Datu in 2011. After winning the seat, he was made a special adviser to the chief minister and later, minister with special functions.
With his comeback from semi-retirement, it is not a surprising that he was picked by Taib to replace him.
However, federal leaders see another side to Adenan’s background – arrogance, laziness and difficult to work with. They have known him since he served as natural resources and environment minister in Kuala Lumpur.
Adenan’s staff too have complained of difficulty in working with him, for he is seldom in the office.
Important files and documents that need his attention have to be sent to his house. As a minister, he could not be bothered to visit the scenes devastated by the December 2004 tsunami, where millions of ringgit worth of properties were damaged and lives lost.
According to sources in Kuala Lumpur, Adenan was told to resign before the 2008 parliamentary election or be faced the indignity of being dropped from the cabinet. He chose to resign.
That could be some of the reasons why federal leaders do not want him to be the next chief minister of Sarawak and preferred Abang Johari instead.
Kuala Lumpur's worry
What worry Kuala Lumpur has is that Adenan will be carrying out Taib’s policies, especially on land that comes under native customary rights (NCR).
The more than 400 court cases filed by the native communities against the state government for land grabbing and this is seen by the federal authorities as not good for the international image of Malaysia.
With Abang Johari, who they regard as ‘Mr Clean’ and a humble, approachable and easy to work with person, Taib’s land policies could be changed.
As observers see it, Muhyiddin’s mission is considered a failure after Taib made the advanced announcement that Adenan has been picked to be the next chief minister of Sarawak, just hours before Muhyiddin was due to meet with Taib.
For the time being, the ‘pre-emptive’ strategy could be regarded as a ‘victory’ for Taib and Adenan.
However, Taib could face a bigger loss as his ambition to be Sarawak’s next head of state is in the hands of Prime Minister Najib.
Observers say that there are two things that Najib could use against Taib. One is that the Rulers Conference, which must unanimously agree to Taib’s appointment. It must be a 100 percent consensus.
It is understood that a number of the Malay Rulers do not like Taib, all because of his arrogance.
The other is that there are 400 reports that have been lodged against Taib for alleged corruption, abuse of power and the practice of cronyism in the giving out of government contracts and state land.
The Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission has formed a 10-member panel to study all these reports.
Najib’s use of either one of these two matters could derail Taib’s ambition to be Sarawak’s next Yang di-Pertua Negeri.
However, can this lead to further confrontation between the state and federal governments? Should there be such a drama, it should start unfolding soon.
The writer, who uses a pseudonym, is based in Sarawak.