They are not alone with such impression. But the Sarawak chief minister has turned such impression and perception into something of an artform, disarming critics and observers alike with his trademark nonchalance, until those who meet him get to hear him open up.
This writer predicted in this column years ago that Adenan was well-placed to succeed his formidable predecessor and now Yang Dipertua Negeri Tun Abdul Taib Mahmud.
Sarawak Chief Minister Tan Sri Adenan Satem has been pushing all the right buttons in his pronouncements on almost all the key issues of concern to the people
When Taib stepped down early last year, three candidates were in the running to succeed him and Adenan was not the obvious one.
The smart money was on Datuk Abang Johari Openg. Not only was Johari the political senior as the sitting deputy president of Parti Pesaka Bumiputra Bersatu, he seemed to have the party’s support base all sewn up behind him and the tacit nod of Putrajaya.
Many dismissed Adenan as Taib’s personal preferred successor simply because the former was regarded as family, being married before to a sister of Taib.
But Taib did not stay as chief minister for more than three decades without the intellectual wherewithal to meticulously plan and plot almost his every political move.
And, on this score, Adenan comes closest as Taib’s intellectual equal and confidante.
Both went to law school in Australia and are equally well-read.
A master of his brief, Adenan proved himself almost indispensable to Taib and found himself being assigned to particularly nettlesome political matters, such as Sarawak’s hugely complex and controversial native land laws.
An acquaintance who admitted he had been a Johari supporter recently revealed an almost embarrassingly admiring approval of Adenan’s performance as chief minister.
He has been pushing all the right buttons in his pronouncements on almost all the key issues of concern to the people, striking a chord with audiences with light banter that betrays a man very much in tune with everyday concerns despite his seemingly calculated remote demeanour of someone lost in his own world.
That he mixes his speeches with flourishes in Sarawak Malay, Iban and Chinese dialect endears him to the rainbow state that is Sarawak.
Important visitors meeting with the chief minister are often initially nonplussed by his seeming inattentiveness, when what is actually happening is Adenan letting his visitors have their say while he makes mental notes of everything being said.
The surprise comes when it is his turn to have his say in response, done with the authority of someone clearly in command of all the nitty-gritty of state policies.
Few come away unimpressed.
Adenan clearly relishes his moment at the pinnacle of the state leadership. He would have been buoyed by a recent poll that revealed he enjoys general approval ratings in the mid-70 percentage range.
Even the most sceptical of the voter segment — the Chinese — gave him a 60 per cent approval rating.
A personally self-assured and confident Adenan, thus, goes into the upcoming state election for his first mandate as the state chief executive under favourable circumstances any politician will die for.
The Sarawak Barisan Nasional romping home with another two-thirds majority in the Sarawak assembly is never in much of a doubt.
The question is whether Adenan can convert his high personal approval ratings even among the state’s Chinese voters into actually winning back urban seats mostly lost to the opposition the last time around.
This will not be easy, given the apparent disarray in the Sarawak United People’s Party (SUPP) that led to a splinter party called the United People’s Party that acts like an internal rival to SUPP for the affection of Chinese voters within the governing state coalition.
Adenan will undoubtedly do his utmost to win not just the hearts, but the votes, of Chinese voters. His actions in clamping down on abuses in important sectors of the state economy are noteworthy and will be duly assessed by the more economically-savvy Chinese voters.
While impressed, difficult follow-through steps need to be taken to root out such deep-seated maladies.
The chief minister, thus, makes the reasonable-sounding argument that is precisely why he needs a convincing mandate across the board, so he can follow through on the promising starts he has already made.