In another three days, on Jan 13, it will be Datuk Patinggi Tan Sri Abang Johari Tun Openg’s fifth anniversary in office as Sarawak’s sixth chief minister. He took over in 2017.
In the last five years, Abang Johari has notched up several achievements. There are so many and I have lost count of them. If I were to mention some of these achievements, I would sound like a broken record, as so much has been written — his more than 100 initiatives, which include welfare, education and development programmes — repetitively about this humble man, who comes from an equally humble family.
But personally, I think two of his achievements stand out among the rest. Readers and fans of Abang Johari, I believe, have their own opinions of what these achievements are.
In his first 100 days in office, Abang Johari convinced Putrajaya to let go of the Bakun hydro dam to Sarawak — for a ‘giveaway price’ of only RM2.5 billion — to power the state’s industrialisation programmes. And he did it within two months in office!
The dam was acquired smoothly, thanks to his close rapport with the federal leaders.
Abang Johari’s other notable achievement in my opinion — which is still the talk of Malaya three weeks after the 12th state election — was his overwhelming landslide victory of 76 seats out of 82, and the near annihilation of the state’s major opposition, the DAP, which was left standing with only two seats.
Home-grown opposition PSB, which contested in 70 seats and was supposed to have given Abang Johari’s GPS coalition a run for its money, received a sound thrashing instead. It could manage only four seats, that also its winning margin was too close for comfort.
Datuk Seri Wong Soon Koh’s party didn’t know what hit them. Well, it was simply Abang Johari’s people-friendly policies and attractive development programmes — coupled with his friendly and kind disposition, and not forgetting his ability to deliver in the past five years — that made the difference.
The GPS chairman is very committed to bringing transformation and development, especially placing the state on the path towards 2030.
Abang Johari’s performance was better than the victory achieved by Pehin Sri Adenan Satem, who won 72 seats in 2016.
I believe the 12th state election could be the most satisfying moments in Abang Johari’s political career. Because one, it was the manner he won the polls, and two, he received a clear mandate to helm the government for the next five years.
Let’s go back to the start of his political career some four decades ago.
It is interesting to note how Abang Johari entered politics. He joined politics in 1977 at the age of 27 when he was appointed as PBB Youth chief. He entered politics to serve the people, party and state without clamouring for any positions, but fate had other plans for him.
The son of Sarawak’s first post-colonial Governor Tun Abang Openg Abang Sapiee and Dayang Masniah Abdul Rahman — and the youngest of 10 siblings — Abang Johari had initially rejected third Chief Minister Tun Abdul Rahman Yakub’s offer to run in the ensuing by-election following Datuk Abang Abu Bakar Abang Mustapha’s resignation as the Satok assemblyman in 1981.
He gave an excuse to avoid Rahman Yakub’s offer. But the latter met with Abang Johari’s mother to discuss the matter.
During an exclusive interview at his residence, granted by Abang Johari on the occasion of his first 100 days in office in April 2017, he recalled Abdul Rahman’s offer.
“The leadership had confidence in me and I just had to go out there and win the (Satok) seat for PBB. Initially, I declined because I thought I was young, but the late Tun Rahman rang up my mother to convince me to stand.
“My mother then advised me, ‘Jangan lawan orang tua (Don’t argue with older persons).’”
He had no choice but to accept Rahman Yakub’s offer in the end.
“So, I took up the offer to be the PBB candidate and won the seat.”
That was the beginning of his state political career.
Abang Johari’s journey to Sarawak’s No. 1 political seat, was however, met with a few challenges.
He revealed during the same interview that there were times when some people attempted to drive a wedge between him and the leadership.
“I wasn’t bothered. This is politics, and once you are in, you might as well continue to serve for as long as God wants you,” he said.
And there were occasions when some people interpreted his transfer from one ministry to another as a move by the leadership to sideline him.
“These people said I was being pushed from ministry to ministry, for example the Tourism Ministry, which in their minds was the lowest of all ministries.
“Some even called me ‘Abang Jo, chief tourist guide’.”
But being a sporting politician, he took all the comments in stride.
With Abang Johari receiving a clear mandate, Sarawakians can expect to see the state fully developed in 2030.
They have the right man leading them.
In the meantime, Datuk Patinggi, Happy Fifth Anniversary in advance.