The date 21 August 2022 marks the 365th day in the office for Malaysia’s ninth Prime Minister Dato’ Sri Ismail Sabri Yaakob.
Dato’ Sri Ismail Sabri Yaakob is the Bera Member of Parliament, a seat which he secured in 2004. Ismail Sabri is also the vice-president of the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), a component party of the Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition which is aligned with the Perikatan Nasional (PN) coalition.
The premier was formally appointed and sworn in as Prime Minister on 21 August 2021 following the resignation of his predecessor Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin.
He is the first Prime Minister of Malaysia born after the independence of Malaya in 1957, the first-ever former Leader of the Opposition in Malaysia to become Prime Minister and the first ever Prime Minister who is not the highest in rank in a political party or coalition.
Ismail Sabri was sworn in amidst a time of unprecedented challenges facing the nation. Salient achievements and misses during his first year as Prime Minister include:-
· It’s said that Ismail Sabri achieved a ‘ceasefire’ between PN and Pakatan Harapan by the execution of a Memorandum of Understanding signed on 13 September 2021 between the Prime Minister representing the Federal Government and the leadership of Pakatan Harapan, which is the main Opposition bloc in Parliament.
· Ismail Sabri launches the concept of ‘Keluarga Malaysia’ (Malaysian Family) at the very start of his premiership to reflect the integrity of the country as being bound by the values within a family to be more inclusive crossing the boundaries of religion, race, and creed driven by the pillars of Inclusion, Togetherness and Gratitude.
· Since then, under his rule, several Acts of Parliament or Bills have been passed with the unanimous support of Members of the House of Representatives, including; The Constitution (Amendment) Bill 2021 relating to the Malaysia Agreement 1963 (MA63), and The Constitution Act (Amendment) Bill (No. 3) 2022 related to the Anti-Party Hopping Law.
· On 27 September 2021, Ismail tabled the 12th Malaysian Plan (12MP) in Dewan Rakyat, and expected the financial position of Malaysia to improve in 2023. The 12MP focuses on four human capital development areas in education sector and government allocations amounting to RM400 billion for ongoing and new projects.
· The Bera MP continued the effort to reduce the threat of COVID-19 and the country has moved from the pandemic to the transition phases to the present endemic phase.
· Inflation continues to be under control with the Federal Government continuing to subsidise petroleum-based fuel and maintain electricity tariffs at the old rates despite the increase in the cost of electricity generation due to the increase in coal and oil prices.
· Economic indicators now show that the country’s economy is improving and strengthening after being affected by the COVID-19 pandemic which had inflicted global turmoil. Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in the second quarter of 2022 grew by 8.9 percent compared to 5 percent in the first quarter. This GDP growth is also the highest in Southeast Asia for the period.
· Foreign investment into the country is returning while the value of exports continues to rise. Foreign direct investment (FDI) recorded the highest recorded figure in the 4th Quarter of 2021 with RM26.7 billion compared with those attained by Malaysia in recent years. This was followed by FDI in the First Quarter of 2022 amounting to RM23.3 billion and the Second Quarter of 2022 amounting to RM24.1 billion. Total FDI investment for the nine-month period of 2021 reached RM74.1 billion, surpassing the total annual FDI achieved from 2018 to early 2021.
· Correspondingly, based on a month-to-month comparison, trade, export, import and trade surplus grew by 18.4%, 21.3%, 15.2% and 72.7% respectively. Trade in the 1st Half of 2022, increased by 43.4% to RM270.39 billion compared to June 2021 and trade improved over the 17th consecutive months with double-digit growth. Exports also recorded double-digit growth for the 11th consecutive month, registering a strong increase of 38.8% to RM146.16 billion. (Source: Berita Harian, 20 July 2022)
· The increase in the price of palm cooking oil has also been controlled by means of setting a ceiling price for mass produced packs.
· Issues relating to chicken supply and price has been resolved following the intervention by the Government to provide subsidies to chicken farmers, an export ban, cancellation of Import Approval Permits and the setting of a ceiling price. Cash and goods assistance targeted at the less fortunate or hardcore poor had been continued with the values of the assistance increasing compared with the last two years. This has been coupled with special programs to improve the well-being of the people.
Ismail courted controversy over his administration’s handling of the flood situation, poor ground action and lack of coordination resulted in catastrophic damage to lives. It got worse when finger-pointing between the Federal and State governments took place.
Another contention although it is a policy he inherited, the immigrant workers and refuge policy which is now seen as too harsh have not been rectified. In fact, the mistreatment of both illegal and legal immigrants has landed Malaysia in a bad spot with US Customs. The implication can be serious and detrimental in the long run.
Ismail had many opportunities to fix some of the underlying issues plaguing the country which are policy related and require political will to fix them. The recent citizenship issue where children born to Malaysian mothers are not recognised by the Home Ministry is extremely lopsided and needs to resolve immediately. However, the PM continues to play a deaf ear to the many calls by his Keluarga Malaysia women.
Perhaps the most telling evaluation of Ismail Sabri will be the way he is going to handle ” the mother of all issues” gripping the nation right now, the LCS Boustead Naval Shipyard controversy which has blown into a worldwide tragedy. On 10 August 2022 in the midst of the scandal, Ismail Sabri said that the government will declassify the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) documents.
The documents have created more problems for the PM as his leaders in UMNO who denied any involvement have now been implicated. What is his next move, cause if his party sacks him, Ismail can lose his PM seat!
Overall, while his tenure has somewhat been akin to a captain navigating a ship in calm waters, the real Ismail Sabri could possibly emerge when the General Election kicks in. Could Sabri continue leading the country? Will the first nonparty leader be endorsed by his President to become Prime Minister if Barisan Nasional wins GE15? If dragging Malaysia out of Covid-19 was tough, we believe the road ahead for Sabri is going to be much tougher.
For a full analysis of the Prime Minister’s leadership and policies catch our upcoming Malaysia Independence Issue and read more about all the past PMs and their legacy both good and bad.