Malaysian PM Ismail Sabri Yaakob invites rival leaders to join Covid-19 effort

In his maiden speech as PM, Datuk Seri Ismail invited opposition politicians to sit on the committee for handling Covid-19.
In his maiden speech as PM, Datuk Seri Ismail invited opposition politicians to sit on the committee for handling Covid-19. PHOTO: THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysia's new Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob has invited opposition leaders to join in the effort to tackle the Covid-19 pandemic, in his maiden speech on Sunday (Aug 22) that emphasised cooperation across the political divide.

Datuk Seri Ismail, who now helms the country's third administration in just three years, offered his rivals seats on the country's National Recovery Council and special committee for dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic.

He called for togetherness among all politicians, and urged a halt to any attempts to grab political power as the country grapples with a Covid-19 crisis that has stretched its health resources and also battered its economy. 

"Such swift changes of government within a short period of time can only be construed as detrimental to the people and the country," Mr Ismail said. 

He pledged to continue to steer the country out of the Covid-19 crisis by ramping up vaccinations to achieve herd immunity and revitalising the country's ailing economy. 

In a brief 15-minute address, Mr Ismail, who is Umno vice-president, promised that the Covid-19 strategies already employed by the previous administration led by Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, who is now one of Mr Ismail's backers, would continue.

His speech largely struck a conciliatory tone, emphasising inclusivity, togetherness and the spirit of the "Malaysian family". He also thanked his predecessor and all the parties from both Mr Muyhiddin's Perikatan Nasional (PN) pact and Mr Ismail's Barisan Nasional (BN) alliance that backed him to become prime minister with just a four-seat majority.

"I pledge to do my best so that the trust placed in my team and me is not misplaced," Mr Ismail said.

Earlier on Sunday, Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong had congratulated Mr Ismail on his appointment in a telephone call, during which both leaders reaffirmed Singapore and Malaysia’s longstanding, deep and broad-ranging ties.

Mr Ismail's speech was immediately welcomed by politicians from both the opposition and his own party.

Opposition MP from the Democratic Action Party (DAP) Ong Kian Ming said that the offer made by Mr Ismail was a "good start", though the details of the positions offered remain to be seen.

Speaking to news channel Astro Awani immediately at the conclusion of Mr Ismail's address, Dr Ong said that a political ceasefire is possible, depending on the outcome of political negotiations.

Opposition leader and head of the Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition Anwar Ibrahim, who was also in the running for the post of prime minister, had previously urged his supporters to accept Mr Ismail's appointment and redirect their focus towards the next election.

Mr Shahril Hamdan, Umno's information chief said that the party now has "no more excuses".

Umno - especially its Supreme Council members - was critical of Mr Muhyiddin's administration as Malaysia's Covid-19 situation worsened. This led to 15 Umno MPs pulling their support from his PN pact, stripping him off a parliamentary majority and forcing his resignation last Monday.

"Umno is now leading this government, and the people will evaluate us accordingly," Mr Shahril said on Astro Awani.

The Umno-led Barisan Nasional was voted out of power for the first time in 61 years at the 2018 election, in which PH scored a shock victory following the 1Malaysia Development Berhad scandal that plagued former prime minister Najib Razak.

BN won just 79 out of 222 federal seats in 2018, a far cry from the 133 seats it had won in the 2013 election. Its numbers dwindled further following defections and several parties deserting the coalition, leaving it with just 42 seats in the Malaysian Parliament currently.

However, with 38 seats, Umno remains the party with the most seats of all the parties that comprise the current administration.