The Election Commission has already fixed the date for what is going to be a momentous election for Sarawak. For the first time since 1981, Sarawak Barisan Nasional will be helmed by a different leader.
Tun Abdul Taib Mahmud, the current Sarawak governor, lead the coalition successfully through seven state elections and returned a two-thirds majority in every general election. However, in the last state election, the Opposition increased their share of the popular vote and won a historic 15 seats. The Sarawak United People's Party (SUPP), a party with a long and illustrious history, bore the burnt of urban rejection similar to its counterparts in peninsular Malaysia like the Malaysia Chinese Association (MCA) and Gerakan.
However, the transfer of power from Taib to Tan Sri Adenan Satem in February 2014 was a game-changer. Adenan has taken Sarawak and Malaysia by storm.
He has changed the rules of political engagement with a mix of populist and creative policies by directly engaging the Chinese community that has been reticent in its support for BN and re-asserting Sarawak's autonomy and re-iterating the 18-point agreement inked when Sarawak, together with Malaya, Singapore and Sabah formed Malaysia in 1963.
Adenan has also openly chided indolent civil servants, championed the use of English, recognised the United Examination Certificate (UEC) from Chinese independent schools, provided allocation to Chinese and missionary schools, facilitated the formation of private English-medium schools and banning trouble makers from peninsular Malaysia from disrupting Sarawak's social harmony regardless of their political background.
Beyond such populist measures, Adenan has proved his mettle as an economic leader by leveraging on Sarawak's natural and inherent strengths and facilitating the growth of Sarawak's economy. With the massive development in Samalaju coupled with the Pan-Borneo Highway that is the brainchild of Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak, Sarawak is poised to undergo a rapid economic transformation.
Adenan has also dispensed with the need to pay quit rent on certain properties, offered free electricity and pushed for development of the rural areas to narrow the "haves" and "have-nots" between the people of Sarawak.
Beyond that, he has clamped down on illegal logging protecting native customary land and warning the big logging companies that he will not tolerate any corrupt practices.
Adenan has also engaged younger Sarawakians who, at times, have felt left behind in the state's rapid development. Many may not know this, but Sarawak has the largest cash reserves of any state and has been able to do so because of sound economic management.
The Opposition in Sarawak, however, is a tale of tragedy. Despite historic victory in 2011, they have failed to galvanise under a single issue. Their "Sarawak for Sarawakians" initiative has been seized by Adenan and he has even acted on it with the devolution of certain powers to Sarawak agreed to by Najib, who has shown that he is a prime minister for all and restored the historical bargain agreed to during the formation of Malaysia.
After years of usurpation of state powers under the Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad regime, Sarawak is finally seeing a return of state powers as agreed to in 1963 and Adenan and Najib have shown to a great double team. This is also a harbinger of healthier federal-state relations and will further augment the federal structure of the country.
The Opposition is seen as petty, with parlour games trumping actual debate on policy and the direction of the state. Their best opposition to Adenan has been that its been all talk but the public can clearly evaluate his successes in two shorts years and with a full five-year term highly likely, Sarawak will likely soar. Adenan has walked the talk and more politicians can learn from him.
Adenan has also deftly managed the political contours within BN Sarawak and accommodated the request of offshoot parties like Teras and United People's Party (UPP). In the end, Adenan continues to show that Barisan is a large and inclusive coalition, willing to work with any party in the national interest.
My verdict is that Adenan rocks and Sarawakians, from Kapit to Kuching, will have an opportunity to validate his efforts and give Sarawak Barisan a resounding victory on May 7.
> The views expressed are entirely the writer’s own.
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