BERA, Pahang – Malaysia’s caretaker Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob finally seems confident enough of success in his constituency of Bera, in the Umno stronghold state Pahang, to leave it and campaign for his party colleagues elsewhere in the country.
When asked if he was sure of victory, however, he said: “Nobody can be assured of victory. In a general election, anything can happen. So you can’t be complacent, or comfortable, or feel that you are guaranteed of a sure win.”
“We must work hard until the eve of Nov 19, and until they announce the results. Nobody can feel comfortable,” he told a news conference, after meeting some 200 Chinese and Indian voters in Mengkarak, Bera, on Wednesday.
Starting Monday, Datuk Seri Ismail 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. He also made stops in administrative capital Putrajaya and Sarawak in east Malaysia. Before that he had left Bera only once, in the first week of campaigning.
He brushed aside the suggestion that he has been focusing mostly on his constituency, and said that he had already visited voters in most of the country before Parliament was dissolved last month.
The Umno vice-president has held his rural Malay-majority seat of Bera since 2004, and is popular among locals for being down to earth and attentive to their needs.
Mr Ismail, 62, won the Bera seat by a margin of about 2,300 votes in 2018, and said earlier this month that he hoped his majority would increase to 10,000.
Among the developments in the area that he helped bring about in recent years were a new hospital and a junior science college.
Rubber tapper Jamlus Ahmad, 58, who is also a village committee member in Kampung Kuala Triang in Bera, said he expects Mr Ismail to retain his seat, due to his popularity and the absence of his challengers.
Mr Jamlus said he had yet to see the other two candidates from Perikatan Nasional and Pakatan Harapan (PH) on the stump.
“People here know Datuk Seri Ismail. He is humble and doesn’t like to follow protocol when he goes out to meet the locals,” Mr Jamlus told The Straits Times.
He shared that Mr Ismail had once helped him when his daughter needed a heart operation 11 years ago.
“He wrote a letter to allow us to get the operation at the National Heart Institute (IJN) for only RM300 (S$90). It would have cost us RM40,000 otherwise. We stayed there for 25 days.”
He said that many locals “bitterly regretted” voting for PH in the last general election.
PH ruled for 22 months after its historic win in 2018, but Mr Jamlus said many projects in the area, such as the construction of new roads, were scrapped after the coalition took over from Barisan Nasional (BN).
Retiree Goh Ben Ey, 70, who attended Wednesday’s event to meet Mr Ismail, said he was a staunch BN supporter. “I have always voted for BN until now, it is the best for development.”
Risk consultancy KRA Group’s strategic director Amir Fareed Rahim told ST that Mr Ismail should be able to perform better for BN as a sitting prime minister, even though Bera is a marginal seat.
“The fact that he is now travelling out of Bera to canvass for votes for BN candidates nationwide indicates his growing confidence. Nonetheless, the marginality of Bera and the competitive contest in this general election mean that he cannot take things for granted,” he said.