IF new Prime Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob had a clear view into the depths of Malaysia’s problems before, he has himself muddied the waters now by his own rather inexplicable actions making everything look rather murky and muddled.

What prompted Ismail Sabri to appoint “Abah”, a name of endearment for “father” in Malay for his immediate predecessor, Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, to the important position of chairman of the National Recovery Council (NRC)?

And yet again there is one more person who enjoys ministerial status for this position and all the perks and privileges that come with it, including salaries, allowances, and other benefits totalling well over RM50,000 per month.

Ismail Sabri is aware that the reason Muhyiddin resigned was that he was facing a motion of no confidence in him, when 15 Umno MPs declared they would vote against him in Parliament, tipping the balance of power against Muhyiddin by a handful of MPs.

That lack of confidence included not only Muhyiddin’s handling of Covid-19 problems but the entire gamut of other factors, including the introduction of a needless emergency, prolonging it needlessly thereby avoiding parliamentary debate, decision and accountability; and poor economic and recovery management.

How can Ismail Sabri then descend into a morass of his own making by appointing Muhyiddin into the position of heading the NRC, supposedly the body that will guide the country into economic growth again following the severe crimping of the economy by Covid-19?

It was an opportunity for Ismail Sabri to prove his mettle and show himself to be different from Muhyiddin and the current Umno/Bersatu mould by appointing a respected technocrat in the position, but he did not, instead opting for the old, jaded, and rejected.

This follows the appointment of the inane, recycled cabinet, in turn followed by the reappointments of three special envoys to various countries with ministerial status.

The appointments were of PAS president and Marang MP Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang as Malaysia’s special envoy to the Middle East, Progressive Democratic Party’s Datuk Seri Tiong King Sing (Bintulu MP) to China, and Sarawak United People’s Party’s Datuk Seri Richard Riot (Serian MP) to East Asia.

Why is Ismail Sabri thumbing his nose at and showing his disdain for the king, country, and rakyat, missing a chance to do something significantly better for the country? Is he not afraid that the 15 Umno dissidents can again express their displeasure with the way things have turned out by withdrawing their support for him?

After all the hustle, bustle, and hullabaloo of a new prime minister, there is now hardly any difference between this cabinet and the previous one, the only change of significance being that Muhyiddin is no longer prime minister. But he has come back in with the latest position at the NRC.

Not only should Ismail Sabri be afraid of the Umno 15, but he is also unlikely to have any support from the opposition, who have not seen any significant change from him and have actually criticised his moves to date as lacking substance and initiative. That leaves him in a rather delicate situation.

Attorney-General Tan Sri Idrus Harun said that there is no need to legitimise the appointment of the prime minister and the government that has been formed. – Bernama pic, September 7, 2021
Attorney-General Tan Sri Idrus Harun said that there is no need to legitimise the appointment of the prime minister and the government that has been formed. – Bernama pic, September 7, 2021

But there has been an expected saviour for him in the form of Attorney-General Tan Sri Idrus Harun who pronounced strangely that “… there is no need to legitimise the appointment of the prime minister and the government that has been formed, (which was done) in accordance with the law”.

He said in a statement that the appointment of Ismail Sabri by the Yang di-Pertuan Agong on August 21 is in line with Articles 40(2)(a) and 43(2)(a) of the federal constitution.

“Article 40(2)(a), which provides the Agong with discretionary powers to appoint a prime minister, should be read in conjunction with Article 43(2)(a), which states that the prime minister shall be appointed from among members of the Dewan Rakyat at His Majesty’s discretion, whom he believes commands majority support.

“It is clear that the Agong has a constitutional responsibility and absolute powers to appoint a prime minister.”

This is despite the fact that Ismail Sabri agreed to hold a confidence vote and Idrus was present at a meeting where this was agreed with the king according to the Pakatan Harapan presidential council.

With the attorney-general taking this stance, which has been slammed by many parties, some of whom said convention dictates holding a confidence vote, it looks like Ismail Sabri is doing what Muhyiddin did before – prolonging his stay as prime minister via dubious means.

With Idrus’ brother being Dewan Rakyat Speaker Datuk Azhar Azizan Harun, a staunch supporter of the establishment, no one expects that a motion of no confidence will be tabled in Parliament. In fact, Azhar himself received several motions for his removal, all of which were predictably rejected by the deputy speaker after Azhar recused himself from the decision-making process.

All these reek of the previous establishment that prolonged the emergency and prevented the tabling of a no-confidence vote. Ismail Sabri has not made a single significant favourable change and therefore deserves no support from anyone from any quarter. There is no reason to expect that he will be much better than Muhyiddin was in service of the king, country and people.

That’s rather a bad start for someone who has been prime minister for just over a fortnight. He could not have done much worse in such a short space of time. The sum of the prime minister’s decisions so far is that things are no different from what they were before, which is a very bad place to be in.

With Abah’s return and as the attorney-general puzzles the people with strange remarks, the prime minister’s ratings on many scores have tumbled precipitously, and most likely, irreversibly too.

What will the prime minister do next? Compromise with the court cluster and take his rating down to rock bottom? If indeed that happens, it will take the country to a new low under Umno. One hopes Ismail Sabri does know better. But then again, one can never know for sure. – The Vibes, September 7, 2021

P. Gunasegaram has lost what little faith he had in the prime minister. He is chief executive of research and advocacy unit Sekhar Institute and editorial adviser of The Vibes