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Sarawak's chief minister in complete control of exit plan

Publication Date : 13-02-2014


The choice of Adenan Satem as Sarawak’s next Chief Minister reflects Taib Mahmud’s instinct for survival as he prepares to ride into the sunset.

Taib has named his successor sooner than expected.

The Kuching media community was only informed that Taib was meeting the governor two hours before the event.

Journalists made a mad rush to Astana, the governor’s riverside residence, and by 4pm, the news was out – Adenan Satem will be the next chief minister.

The question being asked is: Why Adenan and not Abang Johari Tun Openg?

The choice of Adenan speaks volumes of how Taib is in complete control of his own exit plan.

First and foremost, Adenan enjoys the complete trust of Taib. They are not exactly political contemporaries but Adenan was once married to Taib’s younger sister Zainab and they do go back a long way.

Taib, according to some Sarawak political observers, is “doing a Mahathir”, referring to how Dr Mahathir Mohamad picked Abdullah Ahmad Badawi over Najib Tun Razak to take over the reins.

Both Adenan and Abang Johari have their own strengths, but Adenan is seen as more mature and easier to control. Besides, as they say, blood is thicker than water.

Another reason is that Taib feels he owes it to Adenan, who had been his initial choice back in 2003 when he had toyed with the idea of calling it a day.

That was around the time when Mahathir was making his grand exit.

Taib could see the writing on the wall but the sycophantic voices around him told him he was still needed. He is now doing the gentleman’s thing by Adenan although the latter is 69 and not in the pink of health.

Political insiders also claimed that Taib was beholden to the “Mecca agreement”.

Taib had invited Adenan along when he performed the umrah last month where he supposedly told Adenan that he would be the successor. There was no going back on that because what is promised in Mecca is as good as a promise etched in stone.

There are also suggestions that Taib has not forgotten how Abang Johari had gone against his wishes to take on Adenan for the deputy presidency of Pesaka Bumiputera Bersatu Sarawak (PBB) which Taib leads, back in 1998.

Taib had planned to groom Adenan and was upset when Johari beat Adenan for the party’s No. 2 post.

The more cynical say that Taib has been in the control seat so long that he would want to go on pressing the buttons.

“Put yourself in Taib’s shoes. Being able to trust his successor is paramount,” said a former journalist from Sarawak.

He is also leaving with a whole load of baggage accumulated over 32 years as chief minister. He would want a successor whom he can control in some ways.

Adenan, who unlike Abang Johari, has little grassroots support in PBB and would be much easier for him to work with.

But apart from control, family ties and promises, Adenan’s primary strength is that he is seen as a tough guy.

No one will ever have Taib’s flair of ruling with a velvet-gloved iron fist but Adenan comes close because he is seen as someone who can stand up to federal leaders.

Malaysians on the peninsula would be shocked at how Sarawakians feel about them.

Sarawakians are horrified at how religious and racial issues are so much a part of peninsular politics. They do not want their beloved state to go down that road and they are adamant that political parties in the peninsula like the United Malays National Organisation (Umno) which leads the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition, should not influence Sarawak politics.

They want leaders who can say “no” to the federal side. They seem to think that Umno is dying to go into Sarawak and no amount of argument can persuade them that Umno is too busy fighting for survival in the peninsula.

In that sense, the federal leaders’ liking for Abang Johari has worked against him.

For instance, during the 2011 state election, Najib had gone to Abang Johari’s constituency in Satok where he told the crowd that he regards Abang Johari as a “brother” who can call him up anytime. That episode has often been held up as an example that Abang Johari is too close to the federal side.

Taib was initially scheduled to call on the governor this Saturday. So why did he fast-forward the announcement of the new chief minister?

Some said that he wanted to pre-empt input from the federal side, namely in the form of a scheduled visit by Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin.

Muhyiddin flew into Kuching last night for a three-day programme that, according to speculation, would include discussions about the transition plans. Taib put any such hopes to rest by quickly naming Adenan before Muhyiddin could step foot in Kuching.

Taib survived 50 years in politics with a blend of development policies, strongman politics and emphasis on racial and religious tolerance.

The manner by which he has picked his successor and managed his political exit shows that his survival instincts are still as sharp today as it was when he started out.


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