Newsmakers 2017: His own man to the end

This article first appeared in The Edge Malaysia Weekly, on December 25, 2017 - December 31, 2017.
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PEHIN Sri Adenan Satem

Former Sarawak chief minister


“A breath of fresh air” may best describe Pehin Sri Adenan Satem’s 34 months as Sarawak’s fifth chief minister.

He died on Jan 11 from heart complications.

While his final few years define his legacy, Adenan’s political career stretched back decades. His relationship with former brother-in-law Tun Abdul Taib Mahmud, Sarawak’s longest-serving chief minister, dated back to their student days in 

Adelaide, reading law.

So when he was handpicked to succeed Taib, after the latter’s 33 years in power, many did not expect him to be so different from his predecessor.

In his own words: “I am Adenan Satem, I am not ‘Pek Moh’ (or ‘white hair’, referring to Taib’s moniker) … I am my own man, he does not tell me what to do.”

Adenan subsequently shook the state by facilitating high-profile anti-corruption investigations that netted an assistant minister, among others.

After Taib, Sarawakians found Adenan immensely relatable. They regularly met him at Kuching’s local wet market with his wife, buying groceries and talking to people from all walks of life.

He also used Facebook actively, posting views, announcements and pictures of his wife’s cooking to boot.

Articulate and well read, Adenan’s speeches rarely followed the script, and he charmed his audiences with casual sprinklings of Iban and various Chinese and Sarawakian dialects.

Adenan gave voice to the long-simmering resentment against the peninsula for perceived mistreatment since 1963. He regularly stood apart from the pervasive view in Peninsular Malaysia on hot-button issues.

For example, he pushed for greater Sarawak autonomy, supported the state opposition’s call for more oil royalty and defended non-Muslims’ right to use the word “Allah” despite a ban in the peninsula. Similarly, Sarawak recognises the Chinese schools’ United Education Certificate, which is equivalent to Sijil Tinggi Persekolahan Malaysia.

Adenan led Sarawak Barisan Nasional to a landslide victory in the 2016 election, capturing an 87% majority and six more seats than expected. But eight months later, his heart issues cut short the five additional years he had asked voters for to realise his vision. 


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