Hajiji Noor was today sworn in as Sabah’s 16th chief minister, barely two years after leading an exodus of Umno leaders and representatives that almost paralysed the Malay party’s chapter in the state.
The Sabah Bersatu chief’s appointment was a foregone conclusion – almost – going by the state’s predictably unpredictable politics in the appointment of past CMs.
Yesterday, Bung Moktar Radin, the Sabah Umno chief, urged his supporters to rally behind Hajiji following several statements from federal Umno leaders calling on Bersatu to make way for Umno, its partner in the Gabungan Rakyat Sabah which emerged victorious in the recent election.
Hajiji, who also leads the Sabah chapter of Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin’s Perikatan Nasional, was born in Tuaran to a family of farmers and fishermen.
More than four decades ago, he was working as a radio announcer with state broadcaster Radio Televisyen Malaysia.
He then became an officer at the Tuaran district office, where he served until 1982.
Hajiji graduated with a bachelor’s degree in community economic management in the US, returning to public service in 1986 and working as a customs officer in Tawau until 1990.
Hajiji, a seven-term assemblyman who retained his Sulaman constituency in the recent state election, was also the political secretary to the late Abdul Ghafar Baba, a deputy prime minister who served under Dr Mahathir Mohamad.
Hajiji’s climb up the ladder saw him serving positions in the international trade and industry ministry, the Chief Minister’s Department as well as the finance ministry.
But it was the state’s housing and local government portfolio which saw Hajiji strengthen his political foothold, heading the state ministry for 14 years until Umno’s fall from power in 2018.
In December 2018, Hajiji stunned Sabah politics when he announced his exit from the party.
Four months later, he launched Sabah Bersatu, becoming its chairman and threatening then-chief minister Shafie Apdal’s Warisan-led government.
Hajiji’s ascent as Sabah’s most powerful leader has been seen as strengthening Muhyiddin’s grip at the federal level.
It is also seen as expanding the influence of Bersatu which only seven months ago was torn apart following his fallout with Mahathir, the key person behind the party’s formation.
Hajiji is not the only politician from Sabah who led defections and was thrust to the top. But his greatest challenge now will be to unite Sabahans torn apart by electoral politics at a time it is least needed, when the Covid-19 pandemic may well continue ravaging the state’s economy.
The coming days will tell whether Hajiji is the chief minister for all, in a state where ethnicity and party politics are played out unabashedly.
Fazreen Kamal contributed to this report.