Malaysia's King affirms Ismail Sabri as new prime minister

The palace issued a statement saying Sultan Abdullah Ahmad Shah has consented to appoint Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob (pictured) as prime minister and will swear him in at 2.30pm on Aug 21, 2021.
The palace issued a statement saying Sultan Abdullah Ahmad Shah has consented to appoint Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob (pictured) as prime minister and will swear him in at 2.30pm on Aug 21, 2021.PHOTO: BERNAMA

KUALA LUMPUR - Umno has reclaimed Malaysia’s premiership just three years after its shock election defeat that ended over six decades of uninterrupted rule since independence. 

The King confirmed on Friday (Aug 20) that the grand old party’s vice president Ismail Sabri Yaakob will be the ninth prime minister after a meeting lasting less than two hours with other state rulers.

Before 5pm, minutes after the “special discussion” concluded, the palace issued a statement saying Sultan Abdullah Ahmad Shah “has consented to appoint Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri” and will swear him in at 2.30pm Saturday.

“His Majesty expressed hope that with the appointment of the new Prime Minister, the political crisis will end swiftly and all MPs can set aside narrow political agendas to unite and cooperate to tackle the Covid-10 pandemic for the sake of the public and nation,” the statement said.

Mr Ismail is expected to convene Parliament soon, as the ruler had earlier said when Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin resigned Monday that his successor must underline his legitimacy with a confidence motion.

Mr Ismail, the deputy premier in the Muhyiddin administration will also have to appoint a Cabinet that can ensure a swift exit from the coronavirus crisis and a healthy economic recovery after last year’s recession.

However, a potential flashpoint could be a wish from some of the monarchs to see a unity government among parties across the political divide, sources have told The Straits Times.

On Wednesday, the palace said the King reminded political leaders in a unique joint audience on Tuesday that “to harmonise the situation, MPs who emerge victorious should extend the hand of cooperation to those that fail and all parties should be ready to work as one team”.

“The winners should not take all, and the losers not lose all,” read the statement issued by royal comptroller Ahmad Fadli Shamsuddin.

This is ostensibly to avoid a repeat of the instability that had plagued the Perikatan Nasional government before it fell after less than 18 months, where the withdrawal of a handful of Umno MPs was sufficient to deprive Mr Muhyiddin of a majority.

Calls for a “war Cabinet” comprising leaders from various parties as well as non-partisan experts have grown since Mr Muhyiddin stepped down, as Malaysia continues to be in the throes of its deadliest Covid-19 wave. Daily infection records have continued to be broken this week despite nearly four months of lockdown and an accelerated vaccination programme.

It is unclear if the royals can prevail on a premier who has a clear majority, as the Constitution obliges the King to appoint ministers in accordance with the advice of the prime minister. At least 111 lawmakers are needed for a simple majority in the 222-seat Parliament. Two seats are currently vacant.

However, with Mr Muhyiddin’s battle to stay in power finally undone after a clash with the palace over the revocation of emergency ordinances last month, Malaysia’s politicians are wary of courting potential accusations of treason against the rulers, who are revered by the Malay Muslim majority as guardians of their ethnic and religious interests.

The 114 MPs supporting Mr Ismail are an exact replica of those who were in the Muhyiddin administration. They include members of the outgoing premier’s Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia, Parti Islam SeMalaysia, Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS) and Umno - save renegade Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah - as well as several smaller parties and independents.

The Umno MPs on Friday evening held a closed-door meeting at a hotel chaired by PM-designate Ismail, local media reported.