Remembering Adenan Satem

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Adenan Satem - Photograph: tv14.my

Perhaps Adenan’s greatest contribution was his expression of dissent on religious and cultural issues that conflicted with Umno’s mainstream discourse, writes Ngu Ik Tien.

Adenan Satem, the former Chief Minister of Sarawak, passed away on 11 January 2017.

Condolences to his family flooded social media following his passing, and many mourned his passing as a great loss not only to Sarawak but also to the nation.

Despite Adenan Satem’s fierce championing of autonomy rights for Sarawak, he was surprisingly acknowledged by many as more than a regional leader. Heartfelt condolences poured in from non-politicians and non-Sarawakians including West Malaysia-based groups and civil society groups like Bersih 2.0.

Perhaps Adenan’s greatest contribution to Malaysians was his expression of dissent on religious and cultural issues that conflicted with the mainstream discourse spurred on by Umno. His political status as the chief minister of a state added weight to his speeches.

That said, Adenan Satem’s commitment did not lie in real change. He shared with former Sarawak Chief Minister Taib Mahmud the same “political acumen” when it came to winning elections.

First, he welcomed the Electoral Commission’s redelineation exercise in Sarawak in 2015, which clearly disadvantaged the opposition.

During the campaign period for the Sarawak state election in 2016, in the name of defending Sarawak immigration rights, he banned or restricted the entry of a string of opposition leaders to Sarawak. Money politics was rampant as usual in most electoral constituencies.

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Regarding his promotion of English in the Sarawak government, that had always been practised even before he came to office.

He was touted to be friendly to the Chinese community, but did not resume the tradition of appointing a Chinese as deputy chief minister despite the BN’s Chinese-based political parties winning back three Chinese-majority seats.

His pledge to recognise the United Examination Certificate (UEC) was very much a gesture of inclusion, which was commendable. But as the Ministry of Education has not permitted students from Chinese independent schools to take Malay as a single subject in SPM, UEC graduates have no choice but to sit for a full SPM examination to fulfil the Malay language requirement.

There are other issues that were picked up by Aliran members and other local civil society groups last week.

Mustafar K Anuar criticised local public universities for taking harsh measures against their students who showed concerns about the state of corruption in this country. The article titled “Punishing the wrong people” urged the management of these universities to value the importance of dissent and differences of opinion in academic life and society.

Dr Jeyakumar Devaraj urged the government to postpone the expansion of the so-called full-paying patients scheme in major public hospitals. Based on complaints from patients and medical staff, he listed down flaws that may have appeared in the scheme.

These include encouraging experienced specialists to work overtime for extra income, which may lead to senior doctors clocking off “on time” and leaving some of their work to junior doctors. The new scheme would also exhaust doctors who work diligently in public wards but reward those who spend more time in serving patients in the ‘private’ wards.

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Another piece reminds us of the problem of custodial deaths in Malaysia. Aliran president Prema Devaraj believes it is essential for the police personnel concerned to be held accountable for such deaths if we are serious about tackling this problem.

Ngu Ik Tien
Co-editor, Aliran newsletter
20 January 2017

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