Sarawak Chief Minister a breath of fresh air
IS ADENAN Satem for real? That is a common question that many people 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 among all ethnic groups remains valid and more critical than ever today.
Yet, none of our national leaders are enunciating it with such clarity, consistency and urgency as Sarawak Chief Minister Adenan.
And no other political leader in office today calls a spade a spade like he does and uses straightforward 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 Mr 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 them to be assertive and 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 Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS) push for hudud law - clearly seeing the party as extremist.
He has publicly supported the work of Sisters in Islam, despite the attacks against the group by some federal leaders and 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 that it is the dominant global language and, if our citizens really want to thrive, they need English.
And to be sure, he reminded his critics that 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.
To rub it in, he has declared past education policies a failure for ignoring the importance of English, and producing thousands of unemployable graduates who could not string together a proper sentence in English.
He labelled the federal government policy on English, well, stupid.
He upended federal policy of not recognising the Chinese schools' Unified Examination Certificate (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 - goes on to do 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 per cent in Sarawak as he prepares for the upcoming state elections.
And even among the Chinese, it is at 64 per cent.
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.
Worse still, these leaders have been 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" (Malay for "others").
And he calls for a stop to the calling of Chinese who have been in Malaysia for generations "pendatang" (immigrants).
Diversity is to be appreciated, he says, as God created us differently for us to know each other.
Diversity is wealth.
And rightly, he adds, 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.
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 Malaysian king 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 and creating a just society, among other ideals.
"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 (people) 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 Mr Adenan seems unreal.
Yet, his words remind us of the urgent need to go back to our values and principles upon which we wanted to share this nation that remains big enough for all.
Just as it seems unreal that Mahathir Mohamad 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 Mr Adenan, 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 are 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 STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK