IT HAS been just over a week since Tan Sri Adenan Satem passed away and there is still a lingering sense of mourning in the air.
Sarawakians have felt his loss deeply, not only from the shock of having a chief minister die in office but because of who Adenan was and what he represented.
He did not stand on ceremony, preferring not to be addressed by a long string of honorifics or “beloved chief minister”. “Just call me CM, cukuplah,” he would say.
He was down to earth and gave the impression that he would have been just as happy spending time with his family or immersing himself in a book as in running the affairs of state.
I remember being impressed by how well-read he was when he spoke of his love of books in an interview with The Star just after becoming chief minister in March 2014.
“I’m a bookworm, yes, ever since my schooldays. In secondary school, my teachers commented that I always liked to read books that had nothing to do with exams,” he told us with a laugh.
He named James Michener as one of his favourite authors for fiction but he also enjoyed biography and history.
“When I visit a bookshop, I always go to the non-fiction section, the history section. I’ve read biographies of great individuals – Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Winston Churchill, Abraham Lincoln, John F. Kennedy, Nehru, Nelson Mandela.”
In that interview as well, he gave a glimpse of the kind of chief minister he would be, speaking on Sarawak’s rights and position as an equal partner of the nation under the Malaysia Agreement, seeking an increase in the oil royalties to 20%, upholding moderation and preserving Sarawak’s multicultural harmony.
Adenan pursued all this and more during his three years in office, gaining the admiration and respect not only of Sarawakians but Malaysians.
He was eloquent in defending Sarawak’s rights and interests, declaring English the state’s second official language and demanding a fairer share of Federal funds to develop the state.
He was truly a Sarawakian leader who transcended racial and religious boundaries, showing by his policies that he cared for everyone. Not only did he allocate funding to Chinese schools, he recognised the Unified Examination Certificate (UEC). When SMK St Teresa’s school hall burnt down last October, he immediately gave RM1mil to the school’s rebuilding efforts.
He showed us what it means to be Sarawakian – that we live and work and play together and respect one another regardless of race and religion, that we value the importance of education and English, and that we recognise our rights and status in the Federation of Malaysia.
When he passed away, many people asked who would stand up for Sarawak and protect the state’s unity and harmony.
Now new Chief Minister Datuk Amar Abang Johari Tun Openg has pledged to continue Adenan’s work, including pursuing Sarawak’s rights and devolution of power from the Federal Government and fulfilling the promises made in the state election eight months ago.
While we welcome this commitment on the part of the state government, the answer to the question is that all of us have a part to play in standing up for Sarawak.
Adenan brought us together and gave us a vision of a better Sarawak. We can live up to his legacy by continuing to be united and working together to build an inclusive and equitable Sarawak that will withstand the perils of extremism.