Malaysia’s 9th prime minister Ismail Sabri: An UMNO veteran who rose up the ranks

KUALA LUMPUR: Mr Ismail Sabri Yaakob from United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) has been appointed as Malaysia’s ninth prime minister.

The veteran politician, 61, has been the Member of Parliament (MP) for Bera, Pahang, since 2004.

He was a lawyer by profession and had served as director of several government boards, including the Southeast Pahang Development Authority (DARA) and the Malaysian Tourism Promotion Board. 

Beginning as an UMNO division committee member in Temerloh, Pahang, in 1987, Mr Ismail Sabri rose through the ranks gradually to become an UMNO supreme council member in 2008. 

The father of four children first joined the Malaysian cabinet in 2008 as youth and sports minister during the prime ministership of Abdullah Ahmad Badawi.

Since then, he had a few changes of portfolios including domestic trade and consumer affairs, agriculture and agro-based industry as well as rural and regional development.

Ismail Sabri Yaakob waves to members of the media before departing for a meeting with the king in Kuala Lumpur on Aug 19, 2021. (Photo: Reuters/Lim Huey Teng)

In May 2018, the Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition lost the general election, which led to the formation of a new government by Pakatan Harapan (PH).

Mr Ismail Sabri served as opposition leader in the parliament from 2019 to 2020. 

The UMNO vice president returned to the Cabinet again as senior minister for defence when the PH government was replaced by Perikatan Nasional (PN) formed by Mr Muhyiddin Yassin in March 2020.  

As coordinating minister in-charge of the COVID-19 response task force, Mr Ismail Sabri was one of the key ministers in the battle to control the surge of COVID-19 cases in Malaysia.

He hosted daily briefings on the implementation of COVID-19 curbs, including the enforcement of public health standard operating procedures and movement restrictions.

On Jul 7, 2021, he was promoted to deputy prime minister by Mr Muhyiddin, just a day before UMNO president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi announced the party’s immediate withdrawal of support for the PN government.

However, Mr Ismail Sabri, along with other 18 UMNO and BN Cabinet ministers decided to stay put, saying they would remain to support the PN government at least until the tabling of a motion of confidence in the parliament.

Mr Ismail Sabri became the deputy prime minister with the shortest stint in office when Mr Muhyiddin resigned on Aug 16 and the consequential dissolution of his Cabinet. 

UMNO and BN backed Mr Ismail Sabri as the prime minister’s candidate in the race to identify the next leader.

Former Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob waves to members of the media before departing for a meeting with the King, in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, August 19, 2021. REUTERS/Lim Huey Teng

In the announcement naming Mr Ismail Sabri as the new prime minister on Aug 20, the king called for the government to continue efforts to combat COVID-19 immediately. 

“His Majesty expressed his views that with the appointment of a new prime minister, the political turmoil can end immediately and all MPs can set aside their political agendas and unite in handling COVID-19 for the sake of people and the country,” said the palace statement.

Mr Ismail Sabri’s political career is not without hiccups. 

During his tenure as the agriculture minister in 2015, he called for Malays to boycott Chinese businesses to fight against profiteering. 

Later that year, Mr Ismail Sabri, who had been appointed as minister of rural and regional development, proposed to set up “Low Yat 2”, a digital mall catering to Malay traders and consumers. This came after a race brawl at Low Yat Plaza, a well-known landmark with majority Chinese business owners in Kuala Lumpur. 

In the opening of MARA Digital Mall in December, the minister said it was not a racist initiative. “When I suggested the idea, they called me racist. But those who know, know that what we are doing is only to help the bumiputera,” he said at that time, according to Malay Mail.

CNA

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