Achange of guard was effected in Malaysia on Friday with the appointment by the King of Ismail Sabri Yaakob as the Prime Minister. This seemingly ends the political turmoil of the past few months and in the midst of a deepening Covid crisis.
As the ninth head of government, he will bring back the Malay-based United Malays National Organisation (Umno) party to the vanguard. It was routed in the 2018 general elections, plagued as it was by graft charges and the so-called 1MDB scandal.
A former Deputy Prime Minister under his predecessor, Muhyuddin Yassin, Sabri has been an influential, if moderate, leader in Umno… He is moving closer to forming the next government after securing a parliamentary majority from the same coalition that collapsed earlier this week. If confirmed, Sabri’s appointment will mark the return of the Umno party to leadership, three years after it lost a general election.
Umno’s Secretary-General, Ahmad Maslan, said in a tweet that Sabri had the support of 114 legislators in the 222-seat parliament. The King has announced his decision on the new head of government after meeting the country’s senior royals. The King’s role is largely ceremonial in Malaysia, but he can appoint the person he believes has majority support in Parliament as Prime Minister.
He has already said that the candidate must prove his support in a confidence vote in Parliament. The 2018 election brought the Pakatan Harapan coalition to power under former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad. He resigned in February 2020 after a power grab within the ruling coalition caused its collapse.
Rump members of Pakatan then joined forces with Muhyiddin, Umno and the country’s Islamic party in a fragile coalition of ethnic Malay parties, but Umno continued to threaten to withdraw its support. It is open to question whether Sabri’s government will impart stability. Arguably, Malaysians will view his appointment under the same alliance “as nothing more than a game of musical chairs”.
He was also the public face of the response to the mortal pandemic, one that has been widely criticised. Malaysia reported a record 22,948 cases on Thursday and went worse a day later with 23,564 cases. The other contender in the race, Anwar Ibrahim, leads a three-party alliance that is the biggest opposition bloc.
He is thought to have the backing of about 105 members of Parliament compared with 114 for Sabri. Anwar had been due to succeed then-Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad before their reformist alliance collapsed.
Public anger has grown in recent months over the administration’s handling of the pandemic with cases spreading at a record pace and hundreds of deaths each day despite extended lockdowns and a stepped up vaccination programme.
Going by the parameter of ties with India, he will try to be on what they call an “even keel” with Delhi, with the equation riveted to trade. India’s trade deficit with Malaysia has reduced by about $ 1 billion in 2020-21, as compared to 2019-20.