Malaysia’s incoming prime minister, Ismail Sabri Yaakob, is a veteran politician from the country’s longest-ruling party, but analysts say he is an emergency response leader with little chance of ending the protracted turbulence.
The 61-year-old was appointed prime minister on Friday following the collapse of Muhyiddin Yassin’s government this week, and is Malaysia’s third new prime minister in less than four years.
He is a member of the United Malays National Organization (UMNO), the main party in a coalition that ruled Malaysia for decades after independence.
He was relatively inconspicuous for most of his career, but he rose to prominence during Muhyiddin’s 17-month reign.
As defense minister, he gave daily briefings on the fight against the pandemic and was promoted to deputy prime minister in the last days of the government.
His ties between different factions could give the new government slightly stronger support in parliament than during the chaotic Muhyiddin era, analysts say.
Ismail Sabri is “a bridge between the different camps in (Muhyiddin’s party) and UMNO – the man in the right place,” said Bridget Welsh, a Malaysia expert from the University of Nottingham.
But his government is actually an expanded version of the one that just fell apart — Muhyiddin and his allies back him — and he was not elected by the public.
The king chose the prime minister based on who has the most support in parliament, rather than going to elections, fearing it could exacerbate a serious virus outbreak.
He will likely face ongoing opposition attacks, and risk starting his tenure with damaged credibility, as he was a key figure in overseeing the previous administration’s widely criticized pandemic response.
“He was a leader… in the Covid mismanagement,” Welsh said. “The policy was seen as not very effective.”
UMNO was ousted by voters in 2018 over corruption charges, but managed to regain a foothold as part of Muhyiddin’s government.
And by retaking the premiership without elections, they risk sparking public anger, analysts warn.
Ismail Sabri, from the eastern state of Pahang, worked as a lawyer before entering politics, holding various cabinet posts, including minister of agriculture and rural development.
A member of the country’s ethnic Malaysian Muslim majority, he occasionally caused controversy with comments criticized for fueling racial tensions.
In 2019, while in opposition, he reportedly called on Muslims to wage “jihad” against the then-ruling coalition – which was ethnically diverse – and accused it of being anti-Islam.
Race and religion are sensitive in Malaysia. About 60 percent of Malaysia’s 32 million residents are Malay, but it is also home to significant ethnic Chinese and Indian minorities.
Ultimately, Ismail Sabri can ultimately only become a short-lived leader.
“Under normal circumstances, he wouldn’t have had a chance,” said James Chin, a Malaysia expert from the University of Tasmania.
“Unless he grows into orbit, he will only be there until the next general election.”
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NewsMadura staff and has been published from a syndicated feed.)