As Sarawak mourns the passing of its well liked chief minister late Adenan Satem, the spotlight will now be on his likely successor.
Granted, the people are still in shock over the sudden demise of their beloved “Tok Nan”, as Adenan was popularly known, but the question of who would replace him is definitely running through their minds right now.
Adenan, who was appointed the fifth chief minister of the state on Feb 28, 2014, passed away at the Sarawak Heart Centre in Kota Samarahan yesterday. He would have turned 73 on Jan 27.
According to political analysts, Parti Pesaka Bumiputera Bersatu (PBB) — the lynchpin of the Barisan Nasional-led state government — would have the final say on the appointment of the next chief minister.
Adenan was president of PBB, which has 40 seats in the 82-seat state assembly while the other state BN component parties have a total of 32 seats.
Yesterday, when asked by reporters whether an acting chief minister would be appointed, Deputy Chief Minister Abang Johari Openg said the state government would operate as usual and that it would focus on giving Adenan the farewell and respect that he deserved.
Universiti Malaysia Sarawak senior lecturer Associate Prof Dr Jeniri Amir said since the PBB caucus was empowered to select the chief minister, its meeting would be eagerly awaited.
“I expect the caucus to convene a meeting to discuss this matter after the (seven-day) mourning period (for Adenan).
“There’s no other way to select the next CM as this system has been enshrined in the party constitution since 2002. In fact, Adenan was also selected through the party caucus system,” he said, when contacted by Bernama.
PBB’s caucus, comprising all its elected representatives (Members of Parliament and State Assemblymen) and senators, plays a crucial role in selecting the candidate for the state government’s top executive post.
Its caucus system is similar to that practiced by major political parties in developed nations like Canada and New Zealand. Under the caucus system practiced by PBB, whoever is chosen as the chief minister will automatically be appointed as the party president and caucus chairman.
It is, however, important to note that the choice of candidate is not dependent on the party hierarchy.
Currently, PBB’s top hierachy comprises party deputy president Abang Johari, and senior vice-presidents Douglas Uggah Embas and Awang Tengah Ali Hassan.
Alfred Jabu is also PBB deputy president but he did not seek re-election in the state election last April, which rules him out as a potential candidate for the chief minister’s post.
Sarawak has three deputy chief ministers, two of them being Abang Johari and Uggah.
The third, James Jemut Masing, is president of the state BN’s second-largest component Parti Rakyat Sarawak (PRS).
Jeniri said when Adenan was picked as successor to Abdul Taib Mahmud in 2014, Adenan did not hold any significant posts in PBB.
While nobody could predict how the caucus members would pick their next leader, Jeniri said, based on his observations, experience and seniority were likely to be among the criteria.
Universiti Malaya lecturer Awang Azman Awang Pawi, meanwhile, believed that in the coming days, an acting caucus chairman would be appointed, who would then arrange for the caucus to meet to select the next chief minister.
“And, once the caucus has met and decided on who would be CM, the acting chairman will duly notify the head of state (Taib),” he said.
Asked when the new chief minister was likely to be named, Awang Azman said it all depended on when the caucus planned to meet.
“It could happen immediately after the mourning period or even after the by-election (for the newly vacant Tanjung Datu state seat) is over,” he added.
While Adenan had not openly stated who his successor would be, there is talk that he already had a succession plan in mind when he named his line-up of three deputy chief ministers (DCM).
Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia lecturer Suffian Mansor said this was visible in his DCM line-up as two of them — Abang Johari and Uggah — were from his party PBB.
“After the state election (last April), Adenan gave some hint when he created three DCM posts, one of which is held by Abang Johari. Whether the caucus will take note of the hint or not nobody knows but it’s just my view.
“But I do think the caucus members will look into seniority in terms of their service to the state,” he said.
In Suffian’s view, the two prime candidates for the chief minister’s post are Abang Johari and Awang Tengah.
“Although Awang Tengah is not a DCM, he is a senior state minister and senior vice-president of PBB. I believe that the party and Adenan had already put a succession plan of sorts in place after the state election last year,” he added.
A former leader of a state BN component party, who did not want to be identified, expressed a similar view.
He said the fact that Adenan had appointed Abang Johari as one of the three DCMs reflected that he had a potential successor in mind.
“It doesn’t make sense if it (the appointment) is not related to succession,” he said, adding that traditionally, the first DCM post was allocated to the Pesaka side of PBB due to the power-sharing arrangement within the party, which was formed following the merger of Parti Pesaka (Dayak) and Parti Bumiputera (Bumiputera Malay/Melanau) back in the 1970s.
When Adenan announced his state Cabinet line-up in May last year, Uggah was listed as DCM 1, Masing DCM 2 and Abang Johari, DCM 3.
“Masing was appointed DCM due to his seniority as leader of the second-largest BN component party in Sarawak. The third DCM post is usually reserved for the Chinese but, in this case, it was given to Abang Johari. So now we have two DCMs from PBB and it only makes sense that one of them is elevated to the CM’s post,” said the former party leader.
He added that should one of the DCMs be appointed as the next chief minister, the vacant DCM post was likely to be filled by a Chinese, most probably from the Sarawak United People’s Party (SUPP), which had shown some improvement in the last state election.
In the April 2016 polls, PBB won all 40 seats it contested, PRS won all 11 seats, SUPP (seven out of 13 seats), SPDP (three out of five seats), and BN direct candidates (11 out of 13 seats).