The Malaysian king appoints Ismail Sabri Yaakob as the new prime minister


Ismail Sabri Yaakob on August 19, 2021. Ismail becomes the new Prime Minister of Malaysia.

Mat Zain | NurPhoto | Getty Images

Malaysia’s King Al-Sultan Abdullah has appointed Ismail Sabri Yaakob as the new Prime Minister, the palace announced on Friday.

Ismail becomes Malaysia’s third Prime Minister in three years. He will be sworn in on Saturday after receiving the support of 114 MPs, the palace said. That’s more than the 111 required for a simple majority.

Ismail’s predecessor, Muhyiddin Yassin, stepped down on Monday after a little over 17 months in power. Muhyiddin had lost a majority in parliament due to power struggles within his ruling political coalition.

The appointment of Ismail, who was deputy prime minister under Muhyiddin, would keep the ruling coalition essentially intact.

Its rise, however, means that the country’s longest-ruling political party – the United Malaysia National Organization, or UMNO – has recaptured Malaysia’s prime ministerial office after a shocking loss in 2018.

The UMNO was the dominant party in a coalition that ruled Malaysia for over 60 years, but lost power in the 2018 parliamentary elections due to a financial scandal surrounding the sovereign wealth fund 1MDB.

The party returned to power in 2020 after the sudden resignation of the then Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, who made it possible for Muhyiddin to form the current government coalition. Muhyiddin said in a statement Thursday that non-UMNO coalition lawmakers would support Ismail as the new prime minister on condition that the new cabinet does not involve anyone in legal proceedings.

Several UMNO lawmakers, including Party President Ahmad Zahid Hamidi and former Prime Minister Najib Razak, are currently charged with corruption. Both Zahid and Najib have denied wrongdoing.

“Recipe for instability”

Prior to the appointment of Malaysia’s new prime minister, political analysts said Ismail was a poor choice because of its association with the Muhyiddin government – which was widely known criticized for mishandling the country’s worsening Covid-19 outbreak.

Ismail’s appointment will not end the political uncertainty Malaysia has faced since the 2018 elections, analysts said.

The political situation in Malaysia is a “recipe for instability,” said Peter Mumford, practice manager of the Southeast and South Asia risk advisory group Eurasia Group, to CNBC’s “Capital Connection” on Tuesday.

Malaysia has many political parties and none holds more than 20% of the seats in parliament, while politicians hardly differ in their economic ideology, as politics is largely determined by race and religion, Mumford said.

In addition, politicians are not loyal to their parties and would “very much” like to change parties, he said.

“One of the most important ways out of this political mess is to have another round of parliamentary elections and then negotiate who might be the next prime minister. And if those elections result in a party or coalition having a clear majority, then” it will be give more stable government, “said Mumford.