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Expect few changes with Ismail Sabri as Malaysian PM, say analysts

KUALA LUMPUR — Expect few changes in the cabinet line-up if Mr Ismail Sabri Yaakob succeeds in securing the prime minister’s post, political analysts said.

Malaysia's Minister of International Trade and Industry Mohamed Azmin Ali (front right) and Minister of Defence Ismail Sabri Yaakob (front centre) attending a parliament session in Kuala Lumpur on Nov 2, 2020.

Malaysia's Minister of International Trade and Industry Mohamed Azmin Ali (front right) and Minister of Defence Ismail Sabri Yaakob (front centre) attending a parliament session in Kuala Lumpur on Nov 2, 2020.

KUALA LUMPUR — Expect few changes in the cabinet line-up if Mr Ismail Sabri Yaakob succeeds in securing the prime minister’s post, political analysts said.

They said in all likelihood some of the familiar faces will be back in their ministries or shifted to others but he could put his foot down and drop some who had performed poorly.

Professor of Asian Studies at the University of Tasmania and Senior Fellow at the Jeffrey Cheah Institute on Southeast Asia, James Chin said Mr Ismail’s rise to power marks the return of the Barisan Nasional (BN) government. 

“We will not see any key changes in the cabinet. You will see that most of the people in the previous cabinet come back. But of course he may appoint one or two new faces and that is about it,” he said while adding that more Umno leaders may have been appointed to senior cabinet positions. 

Ilham Centre executive director Hisommudin Bakar said the biggest challenge for Ismail is to rectify the shortcomings that have taken place during Perikatan Nasional’s (PN) time in office.

“With the image of a failed government, he has to take on the (king’s) challenge of extending a truce with the opposition,” he said. 

“It is a tough job but that is the only option to create political stability,” he said. 

He said Mr Ismail must be mindful of the size of the cabinet and ensure that competent ministers are appointed to settle the problems left by the previous administration. 

The PN government under former prime minister Muhyiddin Yassin was criticised for being bloated with around 70 members. 

He said Mr Ismail’s only focus should be on the nation’s recovery and finding the best formula for it. 

“The people must be calmed. Covid-19 must be contained effectively. The economy must be rejuvenated immediately. These are critical and enormous challenges,” he said. 

“The prime minister’s seat will not be a comfortable seat for him. It is a hot and thorny one,” he added. 

He said any wrong move may result in criticism as people are banking on him to find a way out of the triple threat of political, economic and health crises. 

Universiti Malaya Awang academic Awang Azman Awang Pawi said the size of the cabinet matters and people wanted one that is smaller, inclusive and has representatives from several parties. 

“Cabinet members who are lacking in performance and are controversial for the PN government must be dropped,” he said, adding that the Bera MP must be brave enough to take the step. 

“The people do not want the cabinet to be formed for the sake of satisfying leaders in certain parties,” he added.

He said factors such as appointing the former prime minister as a minister mentor, currently being bandied about now, and dishing out posts in government linked companies to politicians on the basis of gratitude must be avoided. 

Dr Awang Azman said it is possible for familiar faces to be a part of the cabinet as the Umno vice president may not make many changes and may act on the basis of gratitude and to avoid controversies in the party.

“He may not want to rock the boat,” he said.

He said Mr Ismail must also come up with his own strategies and policies, which will bring a positive impact, given that the previous administration had been unsuccessful in reining in the pandemic and cases had skyrocketed.

Among the key performance index that Ismail might be assessed on is his ability to bring the daily Covid-19 cases to below 3,000 by year-end and his economic policies such as on attracting foreign direct investments, controlling unemployment and inflation as well as boosting productivity.

Senior Fellow at the Singapore Institute of International Affairs, Dr Oh Ei Sun described Ismail’s potential cabinet as old wine in a new bottle. 

“It is the same old bunch of inefficient cabinet members who may come back,” he said. 

However, he said there could be some reshuffle with different people occupying different ministerial portfolios. 

“Essentially it is not going to be new,” he added. 

All MPs submitted statutory declarations to indicate their choice of prime minister to the palace by 4pm on Wednesday.  

However Mr Ismail, who was also a BN minister, is believed to have 115 MPs in his corner with the endorsement of 42 BN MPs.

This is more than the 111 needed to take power. THE MALAYSIAN INSIGHT

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Malaysian politics Ismail Sabri Malaysia PM

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