PUTRAJAYA - Caretaker Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob left his Bera seat in the state of Pahang on Monday to help campaign for Umno candidates allied to him, as he attempts to boost their chances of winning the Nov 19 polls.
The Barisan Nasional (BN) PM candidate made time to join caretaker ministers Khairy Jamaluddin and Tengku Zafrul Aziz, who are running in the hot seats of Sungai Buloh and Kuala Selangor, respectively.
His first stop, however, was the administrative capital and BN stronghold Putrajaya for a ground-breaking ceremony accompanied by incumbent MP Tengku Adnan Tengku Mansor. Former federal territories minister Tengku Adnan has held the Putrajaya seat since 2004.
“God willing, if I am re-elected as PM, I will realise everything in our manifesto,” he said in Putrajaya.
He announced that Friday and Saturday will be public holidays to allow Malaysians to travel back to their home towns to vote. He also said there would be no toll charges for using highways across the country over the two days, for travellers in private vehicles.
“We want to make sure Malaysians can exercise their rights as clearly stipulated in the Federal Constitution. No one can prevent a citizen from exercising their right to vote,” he said.
Later on their walkabout in Kota Damansara, Sungai Buloh candidate Khairy and Datuk Seri Ismail drew hundreds of excited onlookers, many of whom jostled to have their pictures taken with the two Umno politicians.
Responding to questions from the media about Mr Khairy being made deputy prime minister, Mr Ismail said BN had to first win the election.
Mr Khairy agreed, and said: “I have a good relationship with PM. I look forward to supporting him in Cabinet in whatever role. The most important thing is winning first.”
Mr Ismail has not been at the forefront of BN’s election campaign, leaving his base in Bera, Pahang, only once before to support Umno’s deputy youth chief Shahril Hamdan in Melaka’s Alor Gajah and caretaker Transport Minister Wee Ka Siong in Johor’s Ayer Hitam on Nov 9.
When campaigning for Datuk Seri Wee, Mr Ismail vowed to install the Malaysian Chinese Association president as a Cabinet minister again if he returns to office.
“He is trying to save himself and strengthen his position if his coalition wins,” Asian studies professor James Chin of the University of Tasmania told The Straits Times.
Ahead of the election, Umno president and BN chairman Zahid Hamidi dropped a slew of Umno leaders who were part of Mr Ismail’s administration from the coalition’s election line-up, as he sought to cement his grip on power and surround himself with allies.
Those axed from contesting in the upcoming polls are said to be close to Mr Ismail, who is an Umno vice-president.
Mr Ismail has been locked in a power struggle with Zahid. Despite naming Mr Ismail as the PM candidate, many believe that Zahid is also vying for the PM spot if the coalition wins. Traditionally, it is the party president who becomes the PM.
“This is the first time we are seeing an incumbent prime minister who is not a party leader campaigning in a GE. Naturally, he has to be selective on where he goes outside his constituency. Going to difficult seats like Sungai Buloh makes sense, as he needs to prove his popularity and justify his position as BN’s poster boy for GE15,” Bower Group Asia director Adib Zalkapli told ST, referring to the upcoming 15th general election.
Previously, Mr Ismail had repeatedly warned against internal sabotage in Umno during the election.
“If BN wins, he needs all the MPs to be by his side and be presented as the sole PM candidate for the new government,” Mr Adib said.