It’s not easy to be a leader, more so a political leader of a state where there are more than 28 ethnic groups to take care of.
We need political leaders who, among other things, can see the bigger picture, who understand the sensitivities of the diverse racial and multi-religious composition of the country, particularly Sarawak. We need leaders who understand socio-economic issues, and we need leaders who have a grasp of the relationship between the economy and its environmental support systems.
But if you asked me, the important trait of a political leader is putting the rakyat first over self. And also, one who walks the talk, is honest, patient, firm and resolute.
Come Jan 13, it will be Datuk Patinggi Abang Johari Tun Openg’s fourth anniversary in office as Sarawak’s No. 1 politician.
I will not dwell on his numerous achievements since he became the sixth chief minister as his proven track record is there for the people to see for themselves. I will instead dedicate this week’s column to his past — a little bit.
Abang Jo, as he’s fondly known, has all the qualities of a great leader which I mentioned earlier.
His accession to the chief ministership was no bed of roses, however, despite being the son of Sarawak’s first post-colonial governor Tun Abang Openg Abang Sapiee.
He worked hard, real hard. Along the way, the friendly politician received the support of fellow colleagues. But there were some who emerged as obstacles. He didn’t let this small group derail his bigger plan to serve the state and its people.
Abang Jo joined politics to serve the people and party and did not clamour for positions. In fact, positions were the farthest from his mind.
It had never, ever been his obsession to become chief minister although his name cropped up occasionally as a potential candidate to succeed Tun Pehin Sri Abdul Taib Mahmud who stepped down in 2014.
I vividly remember Abang Jo telling us (during an exclusive interview in conjunction with his first 100 days in office as chief minister in 2017 where I was accompanied by fellow journalists Aden Nagrace and the late Jimmy Adit) that though he was the elected party deputy president, he supported Pehin Sri Adenan Satem to be the fifth chief minister.
“When Pehin Sri Taib decided to step down, I was the first to approach him to make his own decision on who should succeed him. I advised Taib that it was not necessary to allow the party caucus to decide his successor.
“I told him, ‘Sir, you decide your successor. There is no need for a caucus.’”
Now, Abang Jo’s magnanimous decision to let Taib decide his successor was simple — to prevent a split in PBB.
Had the succession issue been left to the caucus, there was a possibility the party would have split into three camps with one camp supporting Adenan, the other backing Abang Jo and the third faction supporting Datuk Amar Awang Tengah Ali Hasan.
Adenan and Awang Tengah both also agreed to let Taib pick his successor.
Thus, Abang Jo paved the way for Adenan to be the fifth chief minister. Not many may know this: Abang Jo was the first to issue a press statement in support of Adenan as chief minister.
I am recounting this so that readers will know the true picture behind the smooth transition of power following Taib’s retirement.
And also, to put the record straight that Abang Jo did not clamour for the No. 1 post.
Back then, there were also instances when party members attempted to drive a wedge between him and Taib.
“I wasn’t bothered. This is politics, and once you are in, you might as well just continue to serve for as long as God wants you,” Abang Jo said.
I was told that some people viewed his transfer in the early years from one ministry to another as a move to “sideline” him.
There was this joke about him doubling as a tourist guide circulating in the political circle when he was moved to the Tourism Ministry, which was seen by some as the “lowest of all ministries”.
“Some, even our own party people, called me ‘Abang Jo chief tourist guide’,” he said during the 100 days in office interview.
But Abang Jo laughed off the remarks and took things in his stride.
“Did I lose sleep over it? No, I didn’t. This is normal in politics. You can’t expect 100 percent support.”
For the record, whichever ministry Abang Jo was transferred to, he managed to turn that ministry around.
He had served as Industrial Development Minister, Housing Minister (with additional portfolio of Urbanisation) and Tourism Minister (with additional portfolio of Arts and Culture).
He was deputy chief minister from May 2016 to January 2017.
I will end here by wishing our chief minister in advance: HAPPY 4TH ANNIVERSARY, YAB!