- Published on Thursday, 12 January 2017 18:14
KUCHING: Sarawak has never before seen a leader who made such a great impact on the state and its people like Chief Minister Tan Sri Adenan Satem who died yesterday just two weeks shy of his 73rd birthday.
He had succumbed to a heart ailment that left him with having to use a pace-maker to stabilise his heartbeat after hardly three years in office and six months into his fresh five-year term.
His health had been of uppermost concern to virtually all Sarawakians for quite sometime because here was someone whose inclusive leadership style, "I am the Chief Minister for all" slogan and easy-going personality have refreshingly made a stark difference for the better in this largely rural state still very much lacking in basic instructure.
This was admitted even by his predecessor, Tun Abdul Taib Mahmud, Malaysia's longest-serving head of a state government and who personally picked Adenan as his successor when he stepped down in February 2014 after 33 years in office.
"Adenan had served the state well and served it with sincere feelings. And he has left behind a government as good as ever, more than what I inherited before," said Taib yesterday at the Sarawak Heart Centre in Kota Samarahan near here when Adenan breathed his last.
Adenan had, on a number of occasions, spoken about his close shave with death in his public speeches and also when I interviewed him before the state election in May last year where he led the Barisan Nasional to a massive victory.
"Three years ago, I was really sick. I was at the IJN (National Heart Institute) in Kuala Lumpur and before that in Singapore. At that time, I thought I would go. I called all my loved ones, children and grandchildren. They all came and when you call your children and grandchildren, you know the reason.
"I was ready to go but God is great and I recovered. And when God gives you a new lease of life, it's as if he wants to send a message for me to do my best for Sarawak," he said then.
It was the Adenan factor and the Adenan "fever" sweeping the state that endeared him to the people from all walks of life in a state where race or religion is never an issue, let alone a divisive factor.
Adenan had wanted very much to serve only five more years to carry out his various plans to push the state's pace of development, especially that of transforming the state's rural landscape being boosted with the ongoing construction of the Pan-Borneo Highway.
The Pan-Borneo Highway is a game-changer linking Sarawak and Sabah much like the North-South Highway in mainland Malaysia and started only after Adenan became chief minister and not in the 50 years prior to that since Sarawak's independence within Malaysia.
He had a way with words, a trait which perhaps emanated from his journalistic background. His first job was as a reporter with The Sarawak Tribune, the state's oldest newspaper. He then took up law and graduated as a lawyer in Brisbane, Australia, and later became a magistrate here before going into politics.
His sense of humour at times raised eyesbrows but the audience, from the prime minister down to the ordinary persons, took it in their stride because they knew he meant well.
For example, at the annual gathering of Sarawakians living in Kuala Lumpur and Selangor at the Putra World Trade Centre (PWTC) last year just before the state election, he said he wanted to serve "only five more years and not 33 years", sarcastically referring to his mentor Taib, who was also present.
It was Taib's unchallenged longevity at the helm of Sarawak that made the state to have the least number of chief ministers. Adenan was only the fifth CM since 1963 when Sarawak, Sabah and the then Malaya merged as the federation of Malaysia, while most other states have at least more than double the number.
In the 2011 state election under Taib, the BN lost plenty of Chinese constituencies to the opposition DAP but Adenan's policies endeared himself to the Chinese and at last year's polls, BN won seven of the seats lost previously.
One of the pro-Chinese remarks he made that went viral on social media was this: "The Chinese are not 'pendatang' (immigrants) in Malaysia. If some of my friends in peninsular Malaysia call them 'pendatang', go to hell with them".
And he made no qualms even about making toxic remarks against the sidelining of English in the education system, describing such a policy as "stupid" as English is an international language of knowledge.
No other leaders have even attempted to call for a review of the system but Adenan was determined to do so at least in Sarawak.
His death might mean a setback for such efforts to bring back the glory old days of quality education everyone in the state was looking forward to.
But it was Adenan's strong resolve to implement Sarawak-centric policies, that at times were at odds with federal policies or might have made Putrajaya uncomfortable, that he was well known for as could be seen from the outpouring of grief among netizens over his death.
He wanted the return of Sarawak's administrative authority and, for this, he came up with a 13-point devolution of powers agreement with Putrajaya.
Tributes came fast and furious for Adenan from many who were profoundly saddened by his sudden death which came at a time when Sarawak needed him most to accomplish what he had set out to do.
Academician Assoc Prof Dr Jeniri Amir of Universiti Malaysia Sarawak said Adenan "sacrificed himself" for Sarawak as he worked so hard putting aside personal interests and against the backdrop of his serious health condition.
"He was committed to placing the people's interests above his own, even though he had to sacrifice his life," he said.
It's very rare that the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC), which has hogged media headlines of late for a spate of high-profile arrests of public officials, has come out with a tribute to politicians.
But of Adenan, MACC Chief Commissioner Datuk Dzulkifli Ahmad had this to say: "Adenan was known as a leader with integrity and had shown his seriousness in raising awareness and in preventing corruption."
Dr Jeniri can vouch for this, saying Adenan as chief minister had strictly forbidden his relatives and children from being involved in any state government business deals or applying for any permits or contracts.
"This is what integrity is all about," he said.
1Malaysia Foundation chairman Dr Chanda Muzaffar described Adenan as a courageous champion of Malaysian unity and one who realised that to forge solidarity and cohesiveness among all Malaysians, one had to adopt and implement policies just and fair to everyone.
"He was an ardent believer in inclusiveness. He was an uncompromising opponent of bigotry and chauvinism," he said.
Sarawak and the nation bid farewell to Adenan who was buried at the Samariang Cemetery here late this afternoon in the presence of thousands including Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah of Brunei Darussalam and Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak.
Adenan's is a very hard, perhaps almost impossible, act to follow for his successor who certainly has very large shoes to fill.
May God Almighty bless his soul.