IT’S not every day that the Chief Minister cries, not in public at least. But Datuk Seri Panglima Hj Hajiji Hj Noor did just that on Sunday, June 25.
He could not contain his emotion when speaking at the opening of Wisma Usno in Penampang. He was relating how Usno ‘dragged’ him into politics in 1990 just before nominations for the State General Election.
Relating his story to me a few years ago, he said that he was a Customs Officer based in Tawau when he was informed that then Usno president the late Tun Datu Hj Mustapha Datu Harun wanted to see him. Within days he found himself on his way to Kota Kinabalu. To be exact, to the Tun’s house at Tg Aru.
Hajiji was a young government officer at that time and it was the first time that he would meet the Tun in person. He was immediately overwhelmed by the aura of Tun, dubbed the Grand Old Man of Sabah politics. Mind you, at that time Usno was in the Opposition (PBS was the State government) and the Tun had no official position then. What more if he still had power….
“My hand was shaking when I shook his hand for the first time,” Hajiji told me, not knowing what to expect. After all, the Tun was Sabah’s first Governor (TYT) and 3rd Chief Minister. After all, here was a Sabah Muslim leader who was revered by the State’s Muslims as perhaps second only to God.
Then came the unexpected news which would change his life forever – the Tun wanted him to be the Usno candidate for Sulaman in the Tuaran district. Confused but excited, he asked the Tun for time to decide. The Tun agreed, but asked him not to take too long as Nominations Day was approaching.
After which, he took the opportunity to visit his mother at Kg Serusup in Tuaran, essentially the heart of the constituency, named after the Sulaman lake nearby. According to him, his mother advised him against it or at least think twice.
“Mana kau boleh menang itu. Usno dalam Pembangkang sekarang,” said his mother. (How can you win? Usno is now in the Opposition.) His mother’s advice aside, Hajiji had to consider a few other things. Like his career in the civil service. He was already a Division One government officer (being a graduate) and sky was the limit for him as he was only in his 30s.
If he loses, he not only would lose his lucrative government career but his pension as well. The other thing to consider was – yes, his mother was perhaps right, Usno being in the Opposition means resources (including finance) was also limited. Besides, he would be facing the ruling party, PBS, which did well overall in the previous election in 1986.
To cut the story short, after thinking for two weeks, he said YES to Tun Mustapha. Two reasons, he told me. First, he was overwhelmed by the awe of Sabah’s father of Independence and first impression that the Tun left in him after that meeting in Tg Aru. He felt honoured that the Tun had chosen him over many. Never mind who proposed his name to Tun.
Second, he said he owed it to the Bajau Samah community throughout Sulaman/Tuaran to win the battle for Usno. Since Independence in 1963, the Muslim community had closely been related to Usno and he put his trust in them to elect Usno over PBS.
Hajiji’s father was a Bajau Samah while his mother, unknown to many, actually had Dusun blood. There were quite a lot of Dusun voters in Sulaman too. Since Sabah’s first “direct” general election in 1967, the Sulaman Assemblyman had always been from Usno. Except for a by-election in the late 80s when PBS candidate (the late Hj Jasnie Gindug) beat Usno, probably wrong choice of candidate plus the fact that PBS was the ruling party then. That was perhaps partly why his mother advised him against it.
But Hajiji proved them all wrong by winning Sulaman in 1990, against all odds. That victory would change his life forever. From an ordinary Assemblyman, he eventually rose to become an Assistant Minister (1994), then a full Minister (2004), and finally Chief Minister (2020). His parents must be smiling when watching all these from above.
He had said in 1990 that, it was never his dream to become a Minister one day, let alone Chief Minister. But it happened. Man proposes God disposes. Kak Wan (Anwar’s wife) once said “Manusia Merancang, Tuhan turut merancang”. (Man plans, God also plans)
Coming back to the 1990 election, Sulaman saw a 7-cornered fight. Hajiji, polling 3,575 votes, won with a slim majority of 281. But a win is a win. Tan Sri Bernard Dompok once said that “A rose by any other name is equally fragrant”. His closest rival, as expected, came from the ruling party. Jahid Jahim (then not yet Datuk) of PBS polled 3,294 votes. The remaining candidates all got less than 1,000 votes each.
At the time of PBS’ first election victory in 1985, Jahid was the Tuaran District Officer. Sulaman is part of Tuaran. He later became the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Culture, Youth & Sports. He resigned just in time to contest in the 1990 election. If Hajiji was personally chosen by the Tun, the soft-spoken Jahid was PBS President Pairin’s choice.
Jahid, being the former DO, was not alien to the people of Sulaman (Tuaran). Besides, he is a Muslim although being a KDM. Therefore he was expected to at least pull some of the Muslim votes apart from the KDM and Chinese votes. The fact that he almost won proved my point. But, politics being dynamic and unpredictable, fast forward to today who would have thought that Jahid would one day end up as a Minister under CM Hajiji, some 30 years later? Politics….Jahid is still in PBS while Hajiji leads his new party PGRS and is also Chairman of GRS of which PBS is a component.
In 1992, Pairin formed what was known as the PBS+ government with Muslim-based Usno whose president then was Datu Amir Kahar, Tun Mustapha’s son. By then PBS was out of the Federal Government, having pulled out from BN on the eve of the 1990 nationwide or parliamentary elections. It was obviously to please KL as BN was returned as the Federal Government. Under PBS+, Usno was given two full Minister posts and a couple of Assistant Minister posts.
But not all Usno Assemblymen agreed to be part of the new coalition State Government. Among them were Hajiji and the then Beaufort Assemblywoman, the late Datuk Dayang Mahani. They were flown to KL to meet national leaders. Soon after that, Hajiji was made a Political Secretary to then DPM Tun Ghafar Baba. He later also became a Member of the Board of Bank Rakyat.
Although Umno had set foot in Sabah following PBS’ pullout from BN in 1990, the Usno assemblymen including Hajiji could not join them because of the anti-hopping law which was later ruled unconstitutional by the courts.
In 1994, another State election was held, Usno still in coalition with PBS. This time, people like Hajiji and Dayang Mahani contested under the Umno banner and both won. Two months later when the PBS government collapsed, Hajiji was appointed an Assistant Minister while Mahani was made a full Minister. For the next 10 years, Sabah witnessed a few more CMs due to BN’s rotation system. And all that while, Hajiji remained an Assistant Minister. He didn’t complain or made noise. His loyalty to Umno and BN finally paid off when, in 2004, he finally became a full Minister after Tan Sri Musa Aman became CM.
Hajiji and Musa go a long way back. For starters, when Musa was Usno Treasurer, Hajiji was his Assistant. When Musa became Finance Minister prior to becoming CM, Hajiji was his Assistant Minister. Little wonder when Musa became CM, Hajiji was promoted to full Minister (Local Government & Housing). Hajiji would remain in that Ministry until BN lost the election in 2018.
Actually, Hajiji was even more senior then Musa as an assemblyman. Hajiji became a YB in 1990. Musa only got elected in 1994, the year that BN came to power. But, as they say, different person different luck. In Musa’s short-lived government after the 2018 election, Hajiji together with Datuk Seri Panglima Masidi Manjun were actually promoted to DCMs. But that lasted only 48 hours.
Soon after that, Musa took a backseat from politics and Hajiji took over as the Sabah Umno Liaison Chief. But in December 2018 Hajiji announced his resignation from Umno to become an Independent Assemblyman. Following his footsteps were close to a dozen Umno MPs including Senators and Assemblymen.
A couple of months later, he and the other former Sabah Umno YBs officially joined Bersatu led by former PM Dr Mahathir The old man’s No.2 in Bersatu, Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin was also present when Dr M launched Bersatu Sabah chapter in in KK in April 2019. But Bersatu was not part of the State Government, the ruling party being Warisan. Between 1994 and 2018, Hajiji had won in Sulaman as an Umno candidate. Together with 1990 (Usno), he was a 7 term YB by 2018.
In the 2020 State election, Hajiji finally broke ranks with Umno and stood as a Bersatu candidate for the first time. He won, making him a record-breaking 8-term assemblyman. Together with Umno, PBS and Star, Bersatu was able to form the new State Government a few days after the September 2020 election. It was sweet revenge against Warisan which together with DAP and PKR ruled Sabah for only about two and a half years.
It was even sweeter revenge for Hajiji, Masidi, Dr Jeffrey and Jahid who were Ministers for only 48 hours in the short-lived Musa Cabinet of 2018. Especially for Jeffery, who had to vacate his seat in the Ministry of Agriculture after only 48 hours in 2018. He is now back at that Ministry. In the GRS+ Cabinet of Hajiji, his own party Bersatu got only three Ministerial posts including himself as CM. Umno got four while PBS and Star got two each. On top of that, Umno also got their man chosen as the new Speaker of the State Assembly.
But, as the saying goes, all good things must come to an end. The GRS+ government of Hajiji faced its most stringent test barely two years later when component Umno with more than a dozen assemblymen pulled out their support for Hajiji and rumours had it that they were to form a new government with Warisan.
For a couple of days, Hajiji’s government indeed looked as if it was about to collapse. But luck was with Hajiji. With what was described by PM Anwar as the CM’s “Silat Moves”, Hajiji turned the table against his nemeses and emerged stronger even.
The quick-thinking Hajiji moved fast. He revamped the Cabinet, replacing three Umno Ministers with Assemblymen from DAP and PKR. Two ‘Umno’ assemblymen remained in the Cabinet as ‘Window Dressing’. One of them has since left Umno and joined Hajiji’s new party, PGRS. That was before the Anti-Hop Law. A few other Umno assemblymen and another few from Warisan also joined PGRS. Then the Anti-Hop Law was passed. There were accusations that those who “jumped” to join GRS were “bought”. For argument sake, when someone dumped DAP for Warisan a few years ago was he “bought” also? When someone dumped PKR for Warisan, was he “bought” also.
Moral of the story – don’t simply accuse. Look at yourself in the mirror first. The Bible says: “Do not judge, or you too will be judged….” – Matthew 7. To conclude, another moral of the story is that obviously Hajiji was underestimated by his political opponents. Hajiji’s political style is unique. Well, when even the Prime Minister described his moves as “Silat”, what do you expect?
In the 2018 election, even supporters of the opposition party in Tuaran praised Hajiji in the social media for not victimizing them, instead helping them. An aide of him told me that he was actually scolded by Hajiji for suggesting that opposition people should not be helped. After GRS+’s stunning victory in 2020, Sabahans expected Hajiji to put GRS+ supporters first in opportunities for understandable reasons. Instead, what did Hajiji do?
He appointed Usno president Tan Sri Pandikar Amin as Sabah’s Special Envoy to the BIMP-EAGA Region, not long after the election. Mind you, Usno fought GRS in the just-concluded election and didn’t win a single seat. He then appointed LDP mentor Tan Sri Chong Kah Kiat as Special Tourism Adviser or something like that. Just like Usno, LDP also fought GRS+ during the 2020 election and didn’t win a single seat too.
When these appointments were made, both Usno and LDP were not even components of GRS. If I am not mistaken, after Usno was admitted into GRS later, Pandikar was also made Chairman of TAED (Tg Aru Economic Development), something like that too. One must understand that both Hajiji and Pandikar started their political career through Usno.
In the early 80s, there was a by-election in Usukan in Kota Belud. It was caused by the resignation of then Usno president and Usukan Assemblyman, the late Tun Said Keruak. Tun Said had met with CM Harris and threw his weight behind the ruling Berjaya. Keruak’s son Salleh stood as Berjaya candidate but lost to Usno’s Pandikar who just resigned from the Forestry Department as Legal Adviser. Pandikar was a young lawyer then.
In other words, both Hajiji and Pandikar have sentiments in Usno. Hajiji’s shedding of tears during his speech illustrate my point and I don’t have to elaborate. Pandikar later left Usno to form his own party Bersih but left soon after failing to win any seat in the State Election. In the late 80s he formed Akar with the late Datuk Mark Koding. In the late 90s Akar was dissolved with its members joining Umno enbloc. To cut the long story short, Pandikar was an Usno candidate in the 2020 election which he lost. He took over Usno after the election and brought it into Hajiji’s GRS. For Pandikar, there is nothing like home (Usno).
In fact, after Usno’s admission into GRS there were rumours that Hajiji, after quitting the KL based Bersatu, would lead Usno. But that didn’t materialize and Hajiji ended up taking over PGRS which is more multi-racial than Usno. Parti GRS has the same initial as the State’s ruling coalition GRS.
Then Parti Cinta Sabah (PCS) president Tan Sri Anifah Aman was made Special Investment Advisor to the Chief Minister and Chairman of Invest Sabah. PCS too fought GRS in the election and didn’t win a single seat. In fact, all PCS candidates even lost their deposit. Recently, Anifah was made a Senator (Labuan quota) and got a Tan Sriship. More recently, he has been appointed Chairman of the Labuan Corporation.
Before anybody criticise Hajiji, Anifah’s Senatorship and Tan Sriship and Chairmanship (Labuan) have nothing to do with Hajiji. Those were PM Anwar’s “reward” for him for helping PH/PKR in the MP election end of 2022. Now that Anifah is going to be busy in Labuan, whether or not he would relinquish one or two of his other KK-based government posts remains to be seen. It’s between him and the CM as it cannot be denied that there have been criticisms even in Labuan he is holding too many positions despite PCS being wiped out in the election.
This then, Ladies and Gentlemen, is Hajiji. He obviously believes in the saying “Having an extra friend is better than having an extra enemy”. Here is a leader with vision. He knows how to make full use of good people. I mean, Anifah was Malaysia’s Foreign Minister for close to a decade while Pandikar had been a State Minister, Federal Minister, State Assembly Speaker and Parliament Speaker. Chong meanwhile was also both a Sabah and Federal Minister. A lawyer, the pinnacle of his career was of course being the CM, albeit for only two years.
It was perhaps this political style of Hajiji which made certain people unhappy and tried to topple him in January. They probably felt threatened by the appointments of people like Pandikar, Anifah and Chong. It would mean less chance for their Ma Cais. Well, there can be only one boss in any organization. The British are fond of saying “If you disagree, you disassociate”. That was obviously what his detractors did, something which they may live to regret by now or later.
Lastly, Hajiji has the wisdom of having been an assemblyman for over three decades, an Assistant Minister for 10 years, and a full Minister for more than 10 years. So don’t underestimate him.
He may be soft-spoken and smiling, but as he once said “Don’t mistake my kindness or being humble as a weakness.” Have a nice day and good weekend. Sabah Maju Jaya.