When Malaysia experienced its first hung parliament at GE15, the rakyat were angry with the extended political instability, as they had been forced to endure three prime ministers within four years.
Even the financial markets showed its contempt of transient PMs whose toxic brand of politics had kept away investors. The Malaysian stock market and currency dipped.
At GE15, when no clear-cut winner emerged, leaders of the political parties scrambled around looking for possible partners to convince the Agong that they had the legitimacy to form the next government.
During the GE15 hustings, Bersatu’s Mahiaddin Yassin had allegedly warned voters of a threat by Jewish and Christians to colonize Malaysians and Christianize Malays/Muslims.
Although he denied saying this and claimed that his speech had been taken out of context, the original video recording says otherwise.
When the results of the hung parliament were made public, an overconfident and arrogant Mahiaddin rejected the Agong’s advice.
Armed with 115 statutory declarations to convince the Agong that he had the support of MPs, Mahiaddin had egg on his face when the King then sent him packing and suggested that he instead form a unity government with Anwar Ibrahim, the leader of Harapan.
Mahiaddin’s refusal to agree to the Agong’s suggestion was most bizarre.
Without a clear-cut winner in the elections, naturally all eyes fell on Sarawak as a possible coalition partner to form the next government.
Abang Johari Openg, a.k.a. Abang Jo, the leader of GPS and the Premier of Sarawak, was in a very strong, commanding position, but on November 20, he exposed his weakness.
He promptly flew to Kuala Lumpur to court both the Bersatu and PAS leaders, Mahiaddin Yassin and Hadi Awang, respectively.
Was Abang Jo unaware of their insults towards Christians and non-Malays?
Meanwhile, Abang Jo rebuffed Anwar’s efforts when the latter offered him the olive branch. The Sarawak Premier said that he left it to the Agong to resolve the impasse.
This is not a sign of leadership from Abang Jo, as he was merely passing the buck and shifting the responsibility to the Agong.
Nevertheless, six days later, on November 26, Abang Jo made a spectacular U-turn and met Anwar in KL.
Abang Jo’s initial response to align himself with Mahiaddin and the Perikatan Nasional (PN) coalition prompted many questions.
First, was Abang Jo aware of Mahiaddin’s allegation about the plot to Christianize Muslims? Where were the howls of protest from the Sarawak politicians? Why was Abang Jo quiet?
GPS and Abang Jo do not need to be reminded that Christianity is the largest religion in Sarawak, and that according to the 2021 census, Sarawak is the only Malaysian state with a Christian majority.
The Sarawak Premier should have seen from the election results that the rakyat had spoken and had preferred Anwar’s Harapan, although he lacked the required number of seats to form a government.
How did Abang Jo, the 72-year-old seasoned politician who entered politics when he was 27, and spent 38 years in key roles in the Sarawak government as minister for housing, tourism, urban and rural development, and finance make such a historic mess of his leadership?
More importantly, what is Abang Jo’s vision for Sarawak if he can’t even speak out and defend the interests of the majority Christian electorate?
Sarawakians are well aware that if former chief minister Adenan Satem were alive, he would have fiercely defended the rights of the Sarawak people.
Abang Jo’s poor judgement will undoubtedly have caused Sarawakians to compare him with Adenan.
In 2021, Abang Jo suspended the Sarawak oil royalty talks. When Sarawakians reacted with disbelief, Abang Jo dismissed suggestions that he was discontinuing Adenan’s support for the oil royalty, paid by Petronas to Sarawak, to be increased from the current 5% to 20%.
Before he died, Adenan frequently silenced his critics with remarks like, “I am Adenan Satem. I am not ‘White Hair’ (former Sarawak CM Taib Mahmud).
“I am my own man. He doesn’t tell me what to do.”
“I am Adenan Satem, give me a big mandate, so I can speak up to Kuala Lumpur (federal government).”
“You listen to me. I represent Sarawak.”
In 2015, Adenan announced that he would make English the other official language after Bahasa Malaysia, as his aim was to prepare Sarawakians for future challenges in a world where English is widely spoken.
When criticized, Adenan said, “Whether they agree with me in Semenanjung (peninsula) or not, I don’t care.”
He reprimanded those who called Malaysians of Chinese origin as “pendatang” (immigrants), and said that there is no such term as far as the people of Sarawak was concerned.
Adenan also said, “We cannot have divide-and-rule tactics because Sarawak is for everybody and the country is big enough for everybody.”
One of his many other achievements was to successfully remove the word “lain-lain” (others) on the race column of government forms.
Fast forward to the nail-biting hours just after GE15 results were published, the dramatic announcement about the hung parliament, and the report that senior DAP politicians paid Abang Jo a courtesy call to apologise for the remarks they made a few years earlier, which they said might have upset the Sarawakians.
This apology cannot have been an easy decision to make, and many Sarawakians hoped that Abang Jo had been able to reciprocate the gesture with sincerity and humility.
The question still remains. Why did Abang Jo fail to censure both Mahiaddin and Hadi? What prompted his earlier decision to work with Bersatu and PAS? What is Abang Jo’s vision for Sarawak?
Should Sarawakians appoint another leader who best serves their needs and who is not afraid to speak out on their behalf?
- The Vibes: GE15: Muhyiddin meets Abang Jo, Hadi over formation of new govt
- Free Malaysia Today: We’ll leave it to Agong to choose PM, says Abang Jo
- Free Malaysia Today: Abang Jo pays Anwar a visit
(Mariam Mokhtar is a Freelance Writer.)