Underestimate Ismail Sabri at your own peril

From Political Macha, Free Malaysia Today

So how did Ismail Sabri Yaakob end up being the prime minister today? On May 9, 2018, a total of 5,685,252 voters were “scammed” into believing that voting for Pakatan Harapan (PH) would give birth to a New Malaysia without the unpopular goods and services tax (GST).

Thankfully, however, the New Malaysia rhetoric was shattered when the PH government told the rakyat that “manifesto bukan janji” (the election manifesto is not a pledge) and reminded them not to be jealous of rich people.

The sheer disappointment, aided by the ineptness of PH to govern the country, was put on public display when it lost five by-elections in a row to Barisan Nasional (BN) despite being the government of the day.

Even former prime minister Najib Razak managed to win his last two by-elections before GE14, and at a point of time when the 1MDB issue was hot news. This fact alone shows how the majority of the rakyat were angry or disappointed with PH.

Basically, the rakyat had realised that PH is only good at making empty promises. Most importantly, across the five seats, BN’s victory margins ranged between a slim 4% and a whopping 38%, with the Tanjung Piai by-election being the cherry on the cake.

In the Tanjung Piai by-election, BN won with a huge majority of over 15,000 votes, dealing the worst ever by-election loss for a ruling party in the history of Malaysia.

After that result, a number of MPs in PH realised that they would be burying their political career for good if they remained with PH. This led to the Sheraton Move in 2020. At that time, Bersatu and a group of PKR MPs led by Azmin Ali left PH, triggering its collapse.

It was then replaced by the Perikatan Nasional government led by Muhyiddin Yassin. Muhyiddin led for 17 months, before another group of Umno MPs, led by Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, withdrew support and the Pagoh MP resigned as prime minister.

This, in turn, led to the appointment of Ismail as the prime minister, with the support of 114 MPs. In a nutshell, that’s how Ismail is PM today.

Lucky or ‘rezeki’?

Some say Ismail is lucky. The Malays would call it “rezeki”. What matters most in politics is sometimes about being in the right place at the right time and that seems to be the case for Ismail.

But being lucky or it being “rezeki” doesn’t automatically mean that it is a jolly ride all the way till the next elections, as Muhyiddin quickly came to realise. Like Ismail, a chain of political events that transpired during the Sheraton Move meant that Muhyiddin was “lucky” enough to be appointed as the prime minister.

But Muhyiddin failed to cling on to power and was toppled.

On the other hand, Ismail has proven himself to be a smooth political operative after he signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with PH leaders. This meant that unlike Muhyiddin’s time when everyone was guessing if Muhyiddin had the majority or otherwise, the country would have the political stability to address the Covid-19 threat and the need for economic recovery.

Upon his appointment as PM, Ismail launched the Keluarga Malaysia concept document to act as a guiding framework towards achieving harmony and prosperity for all people in the nation.

Smirk or taunt the theme all you want, but it is the norm for a prime minister or a president to come up with such themes to provide a preview of their administration methods.

Remember Najib’s 1Malaysia, Donald Trump’s Make America Great Again, Barack Obama’s Hope, and PH’s New Malaysia?

Rise in prices

Between January 2010 and September 2011, global crude oil prices rose 35% and food prices went up 26%. This, in turn, led to a 4.9% increase in the prices for food and non-alcoholic beverages during this period.

The then prime minister mooted the idea of Kedai Rakyat 1Malaysia (KR1M) to combat this price hike, and Ismail, being the domestic trade, cooperatives and consumerism minister at the time, had to assume responsibility to ensure the success of the venture.

KR1M was established to help low-income citizens living in urban areas by allowing the government to “control prices and lessen the monopolisation of products”.

Under his watch, it proved to be a success story as KR1M began to record sales of between RM10,000 and RM15,000 daily as a result of the overwhelming response from the public.

Even when PH formed the government, it did not shut down KR1M but “remodelled” and “rebranded” it as KR1M 2.0 (how creative) despite criticising KR1M from day one when it was in the opposition.

As such, Ismail is surely well equipped to handle the rising prices crisis this time, too.

The GST taboo

The PH government had made several questionable decisions for 22 months. Top of the list was when it abolished GST in 2018. The federal government revenue fell by RM21 billion as a consequence.

Ismail, who was the opposition leader at the time, queried then finance minister Lim Guan Eng on the reduction in revenue following the abolition of GST, as well as the government’s measures to cover the revenue shortfall.

Lim replied that the GST revenue shortfall would be partly made up by the higher petroleum revenue despite the fact that Malaysia is a net importer of petroleum. This is why Ismail, during a working visit to Tokyo last month, told Japanese financial daily Nikkei Asia that his government was considering reintroducing the GST.

GST led to the fall of Najib’s BN, and having been part of the Cabinet then, Ismail knows very well how unpopular the decision to implement GST would be. But that has not stopped him from doing what many economists deem as a smart move, albeit it being a political suicide start pack.

Idiotic to think Ismail is clinging on to power

Many in Umno opine that Ismail is postponing elections to cling on to power. This opinion is as idiotic as PH’s decision to abolish GST.

Ismail has been announced as the poster boy aka PM candidate for BN in GE15. Looking at the election result trend in the Melaka and Johor state elections, it seems highly likely that BN will be making a comeback.

This means Ismail will be PM again with a pure BN government and wouldn’t have the need to sign any more MoUs with the opposition (hopefully). As such, why would Ismail seek to cling on to power? Illogical, no?

Perhaps, many aren’t paying close attention to Ismail’s political nuance. Clearly, he is underrated by not only his peers in Umno and BN but also PN and PH.

And all that is left to say here is, underrate him at your own peril.