Building a Better Malaysia–The Adenan Satem Way

March 17, 2016

Building a Better Malaysia–The Adenan Satem Way

by Zainah Anwar

IS Tan Sri Adenan Satem for real? That’s a common question many in Peninsular Malaysia are asking.

For me, this question really reflects how far Malaysia has gone astray from the ideals of nationhood that our founding fathers had envisioned to enable this multi­ethnic country to survive and thrive.

That vision of sharing the nation equitably amongst all ethnic groups remains valid and more critical than ever today. And yet none of our national leaders are enunciating it with such clarity, consistency, and urgency as Adenan.

And no other political leader in office today calls a spade a spade like Adenan does and uses straight forward common sense logic and practicality to explain and justify contested policies.

It is that uncommon in the Malaysian political landscape today that when someone like Adenan comes along, we pinch ourselves and ask if he is for real.

He recently promised to reform all laws that discriminate against women, urging women to be assertive and to champion their rights.

“If we say we want freedom, it’s freedom for everybody, not just men,” he said plainly at a Barisan Nasional Wanita dinner last week.

He is clear and courageous in pushing for a progressive Islam, criticising bigots and extremists, “narrow-minded ustaz” who want to play God, fatwas that have been turned into law when they are just opinions, and the PAS push for hudud law – clearly seeing the party as extremist.

He has publicly supported the work of Sisters in Islam, in spite of the attacks against the group by some federal leaders, religious authorities, and Selangor fatwa calling the group deviant. He has no time for the likes of Ibrahim Ali and Ridhuan Tee, banning them from his state for promoting bigotry, racism, and extremism.

He announced English will be an official language in Sarawak together with Bahasa Malaysia, for the simple reason it is the dominant global language and if our citizens wanted to thrive, they needed English.

And to be sure, he reminded his critics, Sarawak, unlike Sabah, never gave up its right to use English as a national language when it signed the Federation of Malaysia agreement in 1963.

And to rub it in, he declared past education policies a failure for ignoring the importance of English, and producing thousands of unemployable graduates who could not string a proper sentence in English. He labelled the Federal government policy on English, well, stupid.

He upended federal policy of not recognising the Chinese school’s Unified Examinations Syndicate (UEC) standardised examination which is recognised by many universities worldwide, including in the West. He used the “stupid” word again as he felt it was senseless to allow for a brain drain of smart students who move to other countries that recognise the UEC.

In this age of fear and loathing in politics, he is a breath of fresh air. Someone who talks sense, says and, I hope more often than not, does the right thing. He makes, yes, liberal pronouncements! And upholds diversity and pluralism! He eschews the politics of race and religion rampant in the peninsula.

And he is popular. So why are our leaders over in the Peninsula so scared of doing the right thing? Adenan’s approval rating has soared to 85.5% in Sarawak as he prepares for the upcoming state elections. And even among the Chinese, it is at 64%. He should be the envy of other politicians.

If he can get it right, why can’t the peninsula leaders? Why can’t they show similar courage and principles?

He continues to this day, two years after taking office as Chief Minister of Sarawak, to make progressive pronouncements on a range of contentious issues that other federal and state Barisan Nasional leaders have been timid about, and worse still, supporting hardline views that divide the nation.

He seethes at federal policy of labelling the various Dayak ethnic groups under the category of lain-lain and he calls for a stop to calling the Chinese who have been in Malaysia for generations pendatang. Diversity is to be appreciated, he says as God created us differently for us to know each other. Diversity is wealth. And rightly, he says, we need to more than tolerate each other, but to respect each other for our different beliefs and cultures.

All these are music to the ears of much of the electorate in Sarawak and to many of us in Peninsular Malaysia. And yet, some peninsular politicians and right wing groups are castigating him. But in typical Adenan style, he declared he didn’t care as he was doing what was best for Sarawak.

He is in fact articulating the vision of Rukunegara, that neglected national ideology proclaimed by the Yang di-Pertuan Agong at the launch of Merdeka Day celebrations in 1970. A rich set of principles, objectives and outcomes to rebuild the nation after the ethnic riots of May 13, now forgotten and betrayed.

The Rukunegara document is filled with language that civil society is fighting for today in Malaysia – maintaining a democratic way of life; creating a just society; ensuring a liberal approach to her rich and diverse cultural traditions; building a progressive society; justice founded upon the rule of law with every citizen equal before the law; fundamental liberties guaranteed to all citizens; individuals and groups to conduct their affairs in such a manner as not to violate any of the accepted canons of behaviour which is arrogant or offensive to the sensitivities of any other group; no citizen to question the loyalty of another citizen on the ground that he belongs to a particular community.

“These ends and these principles, acceptable to all and applicable to all, will serve as the nexus which will bind us together,” said the Malaysian Government document on the aspirations of the Rukunegara.

Alas, how far astray we have gone and how some leaders have sullied the very national ideology that they wanted the rakyat to live by to build this nation.

We miss those kinds of leaders who used to inspire us to build a better Malaysia. And today, we think some characters we have are the new norm. So Adenan Satem seems unreal. And yet, his words remind us of the urgent need to go back to our pangkal jalan, to the values and principles upon which we wanted to share this nation that remains big enough for all.

Just as it seems unreal that Tun Mahathir and other UMNO leaders are sitting with the likes of Lim Kit Siang and Ambiga Sreenevasan signing a joint declaration calling for the resignation of the Prime Minister and reform of the political system to end the rot in Malaysian politics.

But are we reaching a turning point in Malaysian political culture? Could this be the new norm? Where Adenan Satem who is expected to win handsomely at the state polls will set the tone for the kind of political leadership that is possible and proven successful with the electorate and will inspire others to change? Where former enemies across the political divide could come together and be true to their words of transformation in service of a common cause for the good of the nation?

Or am I being delusional in my desperate need to remain optimistic that change is possible in my beloved country?

The rakyat is watching closely. For another betrayal of promises made, hopes raised only to be dashed again will come with a heavy price at the national polls.

The views expressed are entirely the writer’s own.

15 thoughts on “Building a Better Malaysia–The Adenan Satem Way

  1. Adenan Satem’s party should pull out of UMNO-BN and form a proper Sarawak based coalition. If he does that and by distancing himself from the corrupt Najib-led Barisan Nasional, he will be more credible.–Din Merican

  2. Does it even matter? The man is 72 years old. Unless he becomes PM in the next GE, big questions like race, religion, even education, HE HAS NO CONTROL OVER THE LONG TERM. Even in the mid-term. He becomes a temporary reprieve from the race. religion, corruption hegemonistic onslaught that is UMNO B’s pathology. In fact, it makes thing worst because he distract even derail from the difficult opportunity to change the larger picture, possible condemning themselves and us to EVEN WORST FATE later.

    To extrapolate what Adenan Satem does now for winning his first election, IS DYSFUNCTIONAL – the very things that created Mahathir and Mahathirism and the mess we have today including Najib, 1MDB, “donation”-gate, Hadi’s PAS – everything we are angry with and think is wrong with the country.

  3. It’s still too early to surmise that Adenan Satem is a Saviour in the making. Deliverance is still a long way off. Having served a good part of my army life in Sarawak, from Lawas in the north to Lundu in the south, I kind of like the place and the people.

    I can still recall with clarity the time spent on a long boat travelling to Bekenu and making do with the limited space on a passenger ferry to Binatang and Sarikei.

    You can’t dismiss the Sarawakians for whatever they are. They are just simple easy-going people who love the way they live, survive and interact. You can never find a more charming and gregarious people than the Sarawakians. It’s we, West Malaysians, who created the chasm that divides them by races and beliefs. On hindsight, we should have left them alone.

    What Adenan says is true. Umno divisive policies not only stifle growth but are a stumbling block to integration. There’s definitely no room for hudud and PAS in Sarawak and so does Umno. Little wonder both the Malay-based parties are not welcome in the state. That’s about the best decision the White-haired Rajah had ever made when he was the Chief Minister.

  4. Adnan Satem > How to build BETTER MALAYSIA with a leader like Najib and his cahoots in his bloated cabinet when the country is termed as corrupted country with its corruption index showing a decline.

  5. Even my East Malaysian Oppo-voting friends like Adenan!

    He is simply using Najib smartly as a tool to get what he wants for Sarawak, and in his weakened state the Bogus Worrier is in no position to refuse. I think Najib is finished as far as the Peninsula is concerned. He needs East Malaysian votes desperately to stay alive. And not being much of a thinkker, Jibby’s solution will be “cash is king”.

    The departure of PBB from BN would sound Najib’s death knell instantly, but I think Adenan will ride the Bugis horse until it buckles completely, and then deal with his successor using his powerful bargaining chip.

  6. He has been in politic long enough to fight for all this. Seeing the declining support for the ruling gov, he play head n tail, when the state election drew near. How much true is yet to be seen. With his recent comment on ajip, suspiciuos will arose.

  7. Unintentional irony from the perennially flip-flopping Rojak Putar Kelentong (RPK):

    “I would like to respond to Jahabar Sadiq’s article in The Guardian today. I would have expected that with The Malaysian Insider (TMI) already dead and buried he would stop all his spinning and discontinue his lies. Apparently, as the saying goes, a leopard can never change its spots. Or is it once a thief always a thief?”

    “….a leopard can never change its spots” eh?

    Hee hee…

  8. That would be awesome but dont kid yrself Din, he wont.
    Najib has been visiting Sarawak a a lot lately.
    The state is key to his survival….
    “Or am I being delusional in my desperate need to remain optimistic that change is possible in my beloved country?” (Zainah above)
    I am not optimistic

  9. as always, zainah anwar has injected another dose of reality into the minds of malaysians. i am so pleased she has written this article in praise of adenan satem whom she so aptly describes is a ‘breath of fresh’ in today’s politics. calling a spade a spade seems to be the hallmark of this satem person and, my, what music is this to our ears. din merican, if only adenan satem were to heed your advice to consider distancing himself from the divisive politics of the umno dominated government ……………. – need i say more!

  10. I though it was all nice and dandy with Adenan until he said that he hope Najib would stay as PM until Najib kicks the bucket. Adenan is just playing a masterful game of politics. Certainly he’s much better than his predecessor Taib but the fact that he represents the BN/Umno combo is not a pleasant thing to swallow. Having said that, can one imagine how Najib would fare at this juncture if he had done the same thing as Adenan upon his accession to the PM throne, minus all the scandals now pledging him now of course? There would be no need to buy off anyone and he would still be able to garner maybe 80% of the popular votes.

  11. I’m going to borrow Adenan’s favourite word, “stupid” and call a spade a spade.

    Pakatan is stupid to consort with Dr Mahathir. Instead, they should be spending their time and energy in wooing Adenan to their cause. Why not? If the above article is true, then Pakatan and Adenan are already singing from the same hymn sheet.

    If that were to happen, then we can truly dream of a new dawn for all Malaysians everywhere.

    So Pakatan, stop being STUPID and start wooing.

  12. “..Jibby to be PM for life and also marry an Iban lady.”

    Yup Semper, this bloke’s a goner in FLOM’s eyes. Deader than dead!
    Btw, who is the Yang diPertua Negeri? Ragged Pek Moh, izzit? Nothings changed.. Sigh. Syrian wives are infectious.

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