Malaysia: Ismail Sabri Yaakob could be next PM, restoring party to power after 1MDB scandal


Former Malaysian deputy prime minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob looked set to form the next government after gaining a parliamentary majority from the same coalition that collapsed earlier this week, media and lawmakers said on Thursday.

The choice of Yaakob as prime minister would essentially restore the ruling alliance of Muhyiddin Yassin, who resigned as the country’s leader on Monday after infighting in the coalition cost him majority support.

Ismail’s appointment would also see the return of the United Malays National Organisation, which ruled the country after independence from Britain in 1957 until it was ousted in 2018 over the multibillion-dollar 1MDB financial scandal.

Ismail, 61, who is an UMNO vice president, appeared to have majority support. UMNO secretary general Ahmad Maslan tweeted that all lawmakers from UMNO and other parties in the former ruling alliance who support Ismail have been summoned to meet Sultan Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah in Kuala Lumpur.

Ei Sun Oh, a senior fellow at the Singapore Institute of International Affairs, said that “with Ismail Sabri poised to become Malaysia’s next prime minister under the same alliance, many Malaysians will view it as nothing more than a game of musical chairs” with the baton passed from Muhyiddin’s Bersatu party to UMNO.

Muhyiddin departed after less than 18 months in office amid internal squabbling and mounting public anger over what was widely perceived as his government’s poor handling of the coronavirus pandemic. Malaysia has one of the world’s highest infection rates and deaths per capita, despite a seven-month state of emergency and a lockdown since June.

The king’s role is largely ceremonial in Malaysia, but he appoints the person he believes has majority support in parliament as prime minister.

Local media said Ismail was believed to have obtained 114 votes, surpassing the 111 needed for a simple majority. It is similar to the support Muhyiddin had before 15 UMNO lawmakers withdrew support for him, causing his government to collapse.

A lawyer before he joined politics, Ismail held several ministerial posts in UMNO governments. In 2015 Ismail courted controversy as trade minister when he urged Malay consumers to boycott profiteering Chinese businesses. He was also slammed for supporting the vaping industry, which is dominated by Malays, despite health warnings from the health ministry.

In 2018 polls, Ismail waved the racial card, warning that every vote for the opposition was akin to eliminating special privileges given to Malays under a decades-old affirmative action program.

Ismail was made defence minister when Muhyiddin took power in March 2020, and became the government’s public face through daily briefings on security issues related to the pandemic. He was promoted as deputy prime minister in July as Muhyiddin sought to woo support from UMNO, which was unhappy at playing second fiddle to Muhyiddin’s smaller party. Since Muhyiddin resigned, his party has voiced support for Ismail.

The other contender in the race, Anwar Ibrahim, leads a three-party alliance that is the biggest opposition bloc with 88 votes. Even if all opposition parties support him, he would still fall short with only 105 votes.

Anwar was due to succeed then-prime minister Mahathir Mohamad before their reformist alliance collapsed in February 2020, sparked by the withdrawal of Muhyiddin’s party. Muhyiddin then formed a new government with corruption-tainted UMNO and several other parties.

Credit by The guardian

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