AS the clock ticks towards the end of the campaign week in Sarawak, both sides of the coalitions are gearing up for polling day this Saturday (May 7).
The 11th Sarawak state election will be the very first litmus test for Chief Minister Tan Sri Adenan Satem, who has gained widespread popularity since taking over as the fifth chief minister from his predecessor, Tun Abdul Taib Mahmud.
Surprising or not so, Adenan is now labelled as a star in Chinese media. It was only to be expected that the Chinese press, like the other media organisations, would give him wide coverage when he took over as Sarawak Chief Minister two years ago.
But what was not foreseen was the unprecedented amount of attention that the four Chinese dailies allotted to him, making him their biggest news maker. As Sarawak gears for a state elections, Adenan is enjoying very high popularity among some sections of voters.
Earlier, a study by Universiti Malaysia Sarawak showed Adenan’s popularity rose to about 84 percent in January from 74 percent in June, Bernama reported this month, citing Deputy Prime Minister Zahid Hamidi.
The implementation of new policies like empowerment for Sarawak in a number of sectors, development programs and the ending of toll collection on three bridges were said to be among the key reasons for the swing in his popularity.
Having said that, in the 2011 Sarawak's state election, Chinese voters had overwhelmingly voted for the opposition but this time they are expected to divide their votes between the opposition and BN. Be that as it may, it begs the question: Can Adenan's popularity win over the Chinese voters who make up 28% of the population this time around?
Yesterday, Malaysian Digest spoke to Barisan Nasional's candidate in Bawang Assan constituency, political analysts and an economic expert as they shared their opinions behind Adenan’s popularity spikes leading up to the 11th state polls this coming weekend.
The Reasons Behind “Adenan’s Fever”
Sarawak Local Government and Community Development Minister, Datuk Seri Wong Soon Koh (pic), who is also the president of United People’s Party (UPP), relayed in a recent interview with Malaysian Digest that he believes the state’s Chief Minister Tan Sri Adenan Satem’s popularity will help the party to win the upcoming state polls.
“Adenan is so popular and well-received for so many reasons. Firstly, he is a man with an open mind who is receptive to ideas, suggestions and criticisms. He is a pragmatic leader and a fierce champion for the rights of Sarawakians regardless of creed, religion and political leanings.
“During his stint in the past two years, he has implemented people-friendly policies. He has won the hearts (of Sarawakians), especially those in urban areas, through moves like the abolishment of toll, acceleration development in the suburban areas as well as premium payments for agricultural land and housing, among others,” said Wong.
“Among his most notable contributions is that he had revised tariff structure for the domestic, commercial and industrial sectors to cushion the rising cost of living of the people. Earlier this year, Adenan had also announced that the state government had abolished payment of certain land-quit rents which have brought a huge impact on the people.
“Besides, he is a humorous person. Adenan loves to elicit much laughter and he likes to get out and mingle with people. If you notice, he used to sing a song to entertain the crowds before an event or function gets started, and everyone seems to enjoy it. All these make him so well-received,” he explained.
Acknowledging that Adenan’s growing popularity among the non-Bumiputra voters, Wong asserted: “Nobody can deny the fact that Adenan is so loved by the people in the Hornbill state, not only by the native communities but also the urban Chinese voters. He had adopted initiatives for the Chinese community as well as in matters of faith and education in the state.”
The president of UPP continued, “Apart from putting aside the differences when it comes to supporting Chinese education, Adenan has also won the hearts (of the Chinese community) as he had called on the ultras to stop labelling Chinese in the nation 'pendatang’ or immigrant.”
“All these have earned him a sky-high popularity rating, and loved by the people. He has contributed a lot since taking office two years ago. Having said that, I sincerely hope there is a swing back by the Chinese voters in the upcoming (state) elections,” he stressed.
Autonomous Power Leads To Adenan’s Popularity Spikes
Political analyst Prof Dr Ahmad Atory Hussain (pic), said Tan Sri Adenan Satem is a charismatic and personable leader with clear principles, saying that the Sarawak Chief Minister has over the past two years acted on his promises with assertiveness although he was faced by various challenges at the onset.
“Take, for example, Sarawak had achieved some success as Petronas had recently agreed to give RM2.1billion of contracts to local firms. Besides, the chief minister also said earlier that his government will continue to negotiate with Petronas for better royalty for its oil and gas. This is indeed something praiseworthy,” Prof Ahmad Atory told Malaysian Digest.
"He has also reintroduced Malay-English bilingualism in Sarawak’s administration and restoring the Malaysia Agreement 1963 pact in regaining the state’s full autonomy through well-structured negotiation," he pointed out.
Asked if Adenan’s move on barring Opposition leaders from entering the state would dampen voters’ acceptance towards him, Prof Atory quipped, “Certainly no. He knows what he is doing, and he wants the best for its people. The main intention behind the move, to me, was to keep things local and not allow politics in the peninsula to get into the mix.”
“Sarawak is a state in which they have their own autonomy on immigration. It is the autonomous right of Sarawak to ban unsavoury elements from entering the state. Adenan knows how to protect the interest of Sarawak from negative influences in which he has managed to keep the taint of 1MDB off the state.
“Besides, Adenan has also assured the Chinese they will never be called immigrants in the state and helped the natives of Sarawak win their battle over race classification of Sarawak natives on government forms.” he said.
Ahmad, however, remains pessimistic that BN will gain more seats than its previous two-thirds majority despite the obvious prediction of the party victory in the upcoming state polls,.
While not discounting the 'new guy' factor symbolized by Adenan, he stressed that “voters nowadays especially those in the urban constituencies, are more resourceful, mature and above all unbowed by election candy.”
A People-Oriented, Grassroots Leader
Echoing the stance of Atory, Prof Madya Dr Sivamurugan Pandian (pic), a political observer from Universiti Sains Malaysia said Adenan is a far-sighted leader who can articulate a possible future in a way that speaks for the people of Sarawak which has won him a lot of admiration from all.
“An ambitious leader is the one who uses their clarity of vision and their articulation of a successful future to pull people out of uncertainly into hopefulness to the betterment of all things, and Adenan possesses that quality.
“Malaysians, in general, want leaders who can look beyond and have political capital. They want to have the sense there is a plan to pull them through whatever challenges arise. Over a short period of time, Adenan has proven himself (to be) capable of excellent work to the betterment of Sarawakians.
“The abolition of road tolls and reduction of land and housing assessment rate, are among many initiatives he had implemented. Besides, he has made the people in the state feel they belong to Sarawak, especially the Chinese community,” he told Malaysian Digest.
“Simply put, he is a leader who walks the talk as he did not let the promises ring hollow since he came to power. Adenan is certainly the right candidate to lead Sarawak as he has made a major breakthrough in terms of the development and well-being of the people in Sarawak, irrespective of racial and ethnic origin.
On that note, Sivamurugan said the significant moves to the Chinese community include the recognition of the Unified Examination Certificate (UEC) and recruitment of UEC graduates into the state’s public services.
“In addition, Adenan had also stressed that he will not interfere in matters related to religion in which Christians in the state can use the word 'Allah' since it is used with reverence,” he added.
On The Right Track To Improve The Well-Being Of All Sarawakians
Over the past two years, Adenan’s initiatives and actions indeed prove that Sarawak is undergoing transformation with a state government serious about making changes in education, employment and business to benefit the people and prosper the state in the long run.
In fact, he is turning Sarawak into a vibrant and dynamic state through his ‘gentleman’s negotiation’ with Putrajaya and he dares to implement worthwhile policies other states have not thought about.
The biggest project he has successfully initiated with Putrajaya is the full implementation of Pan Borneo Highway, which will serve to accelerate the state’s socio-economic growth. The Pan Borneo Highway from Telok Melano to Merapok, when completed in early 2023, will span a total distance of 1,089km.
Sarawak, with its oil fields, hydroelectric dams and rainforests, was Malaysia’s third biggest contributor by state or federal territory to gross domestic product in 2014, accounting for about a 10th of output. The result of the state polls is key in part because the assembly’s composition determines if the chief minister is an ally to Najib.
Observers have already noted that Sarawak is keen to diversify its economy and is putting in place an industrialisation plan to help it achieve high income status by 2030.
“Industrialisation is a vital part of Sarawak’s plan,” Chief Minister Adenan Satem told Bloomberg TV in an interview earlier, saying that a progressive shift away from its commodities-based economy will help the state to realise a growth of 4.7% per annum over the next five years.
When contacted, Prof Dr Shazali Abu Mansor, economic expert and lecturer of Universiti Malaysia Sarawak (UNIMAS) told Malaysian Digest that Adenan’s 15-point manifesto which, among others, touched on improving the welfare of the less fortunate and creating more job opportunities is something that is well received by the people of Sarawak.
“Adenan’s initiatives in the past two years has proven that the state is undergoing transformation with a state government serious about making changes not only economically but also in terms of education and employment to benefit the people and prosper the state in the long run.
Under Adenan's government, the state has been consistent with his efforts to pursue its interest towards the increase in oil and gas royalty. This is something we should look forward to as it will eventually creates more employment opportunities for the people in Sarawak," he said.
"To me, Adenan is a charismatic leader whose policies are not race-based which is the reason he has won the hearts of so many," he sums up the Adenan fever taking hold in Sarawak.
As political analyst Prof Ahmad so aptly puts it: “Voters nowadays are more exposed to information on social media. Hence, they are more resourceful, mature and above all they will not be unbowed by scare tactics. Unlike the olden days, they know very well who they should choose for the sake of their future.
“The scare tactics will not work on the voters nowadays. They know how to vote and who to vote for,” he concluded.