Monday, April 05, 2010

Suspicion and anxiety greet Adenan's comeback

Adenan Satem has returned to the Sarawak Cabinet after an absence of six years, and not everyone is happy.

The controversial politician assumed his new duties last Friday following a state cabinet reshuffle announced last March 25.

He is now Special Advisor to the Chief Minister, holding the status of a state minister. He is also in charge of information and broadcasting. That is a powerful position indeed, and is cause for concern and uneasiness not only to ambitious politicians, but also to the Ibans, whom he has insulted more than once.

Adenan, who is the state assemblyman for Tanjong Datu, was once tipped to replace Chief Minister Abdul Taib Mahmud, but fell out of favour with the latter in 2006 and spent the next four years in cold storage.

Before that falling out with Taib, he was a rising star and his detractors sarcastically called him the Raja Muda of PBB.

Many are asking why he is coming back. Does Taib really need an adviser? Or is he being groomed once again to take over the leadership of the party? What is so special about Adenan?

Only Taib knows the answers.

The one thing that is certain is that his comeback has caused uneasiness among supporters of Abang Johari Tun Openg, Alfred Jabu Anak Numpang and Awang Tengah Ali Hassan. The former two are deputy presidents in PBB. Awang Tengah is senior vice-president.

The supporters of these three have been going around in the past few months talking openly about the possibility of one of them replacing Taib, who looks frail and unhealthy after an operation.

As Taib has not named his successor, any of the three would be eligible to take over should any thing happen to the chief minister.

Thus the sudden re-appearance of Adenan is not only going to add to the number of contenders, but is likely to cause anxiety to them and their supporters.

A cut above

Compared to the three, Adenan is noted for his shrewdness and has all the experience and qualities that put him a cut above. He has had held various portfolios in the state administration, including Land Development (1987-1992) and Social Development (1992-1998).

In 2004, he left the state cabinet and joined the federal cabinet as Natural Resources and Environment Minister. He resigned in 2006, hoping to replace Taib, but Taib refused to step down even though he had already promised Adenan he would do so. And this led to the fallout between them.

As for the Ibans, they are worried about Adenan making a comeback because he was at the centre of the notorious Balai Ringin land dispute when he was Assistant Minister of Land and later Minister of Land Development between 1987 and 1992.

Several lots of Iban-owned land at Balai Ringin were given to new owners who ostentatiously went to collect their titles in expensive cars.

In the Supply Bill 1989 debates in the state legislature, Adenan used such expressions as agitators, trouble-makers, land plunderers, pseudo-champions and racists to describe the Ibans.

Following violent protests by land owners, the government had to return the land to their original owners. But the damage to the government’s image had been done.

As if labelling the Ibans with unsavoury names was not enough, Adenan also poked fun at their ritual chanting whenever he addressed a gathering by starting his address with “Oha, oha, oha.”

He might have been innocent of the religious implications, because such expressions are used only when Ibans start their sampi (prayer) or bebilau (miring ceremony).

Adenan stopped the mocking in his addresses only after he was told by an Iban PBB leader that the expression was used by the Iban lemambang (bards) to call on their gods to come down and eat the offerings, probably out of fear. When gods come down and find no offerings, they will get angry; so they will turn on the caller and eat him up.

Adenan paid the price for his blunders when the Ibans in PBB turned against him in his contest for the post of PBB deputy president against Abang Johari in 1998.

Courting the Ibans

By now Adenan must have learnt a lesson or two. Without Iban support, he may not be able to become the president of PBB, and even less likely to be an effective chief minister.

He knows their support is crucial.

Nevertheless, the Ibans are still worried over Adenan’s appointment, for it may worsen the already knotty tussle between the state government and the Native Customary Rights land owners.

“The Ibans cannot forget,” says a political observer.

by FMT

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