Abang Johari — man of the moment

If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.

—  John Quincy Adams, sixth US President

The bets are on! Can GPS do better in the 12th state election under the leadership of Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Tan Sri Abang Johari Tun Openg?

I’m putting money on GPS, not because I have been a government supporter for 50 years, but I want to give the incumbent chief minister a chance to prove himself.

Many people continue to compare Abang Johari with his two famous predecessors Tun Pehin Sri Abdul Taib Mahmud and Pehin Sri Adenan Satem.

I met Abang Johari in the early 1980s and in 1990s, I had the opportunity to accompany him on numerous journeys into the interior when he was Minister of Penan Affairs.

In my travels, I came to understand the man as a reticent and somewhat reluctant politician.

He was never boastful like some politicians can be, and was in the mould of his gentleman father — the first governor of post-colonial Sarawak.

But don’t test his patience and underestimate him.

When he indicated that he might contest in Gedong, his detractors questioned his decision to move out from his state seat of Satok after 40 years.

He has developed Satok to what it is today. Kuching City North is now a role model.

In 1981, Abang Johari was given the task to develop Petra Jaya.

Today, Petra Jaya is the pride of the Kuching Malay community which revolves around Masjid Jamek — the State Mosque.

Petra Jaya also caters for the small Iban community at Siol Kandis.

But not long ago, it was a malaria-infested swamp forest and home to the jinn betendang — genies and naughty spirits.

Third chief minister of Sarawak Tun Abdul Rahman Yakub helped transform the landscape.

A bigger bridge was built across the Sarawak River, the Brooke era suspension bridge.

The north bank of the Sarawak River was where the Brunei sultanate built the Astana and ruled its Kingdom.

It was next to Fort Margherita — bastion of Malaysia’s elite Ranger Regiment and later Sarawak Police Field Force.

With the opening up of the north bank, there was development such as the Matang Troposcatter communications system with its streams carrying piped water to the city.

Needless to say, the infrastructure facilities and amenities have multiplied in new housing estates.

Today, the Damai peninsular, revolving around the ancient city of Santubong has become a world-famous location with its Rainforest Music Festival.

Petra Jaya is also the seat of Sarawak government — thanks to Tun Rahman who set up a Minangkabau style edifice in the 1970s.

When nephew Taib took over, a new Dewan Undangan Negeri (DUN) was built on the riverbank facing Kuching City South.

Abang Johari, who was born in Limbang on August 4, 1950, studied at Merpati Jepang Primary School, Kuching where aristocrat Malays sent their children.

After his Senior Cambridge at St Thomas’ in 1967, he went on to earn a masters’ degree from Henly college.

From the onset, he was always a people’s man and in early 70s was active in youth organisations.

A favourite of Chief Minister Tun Rahman, he helped establish the Sarawak United National Youth Organisation (Saberkas). 

It was Tun Rahman who persuaded the young man to join PBB, a component of the BN.

At the age of 27, he was appointed as PBB Youth chief and in 1981 became the assemblyman for Satok — the heartland of the Kuching Malay community.

It was Tun Rahman who persuaded him to take over from Datu Bandar Abang Abu Bakar, a founder member of Malaysia and an uncle.

Initially, Abang Johari declined the offer — he felt it was too heavy a burden to carry!

But his mother gently coerced him to accept the responsibility in true Malay tradition — that one must be courteous to always respect elders.

Abang Johari accepted the challenge and won by a handsome margin.

In 1982, Abang Johari was appointed as the principal political secretary to the new Chief Minister Tun Taib.

In 1984, he was Assistant Minister for Regional Development and Community Development and from 1987 until he was promoted.

He served in several portfolios as Minister of Industrial Development, Minister of Housing and urbanisation, Arts and Culture and Tourism.

In the last election in May 2016, Abang Johari was in the BN coalition that had a famous landslide victory of 72 out of the 82 contested seats.

Adenan promoted Abang Johari to the post of deputy chief minister after the election.

But as fate would have with it, Adenan died of a heart attack on January 11, 2017, and Abang Johari was again entrusted with great responsibilities.

On January 13, 2017, Abang Johari was sworn in Sarawak’s sixth minister!

Now all eyes are on the Man of the Moment!

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the New Sarawak Tribune.