When Muhyiddin Yassin stepped down as PM on August 16, the nation began wondering who would be next to step up to the role. The names of 2 candidates were thrown around: Anwar Ibrahim, and Ismail Sabri.
Today, MP Ismail Sabri Yaakob has been appointed as the 9th prime minister (PM) of Malaysia. Citing a statement, Istana Negara said Ismail Sabri will be sworn in at 2.30PM tomorrow (August 21).
Malaysians most recently know him as the Defence Minister who came into the spotlight ever since the MCO was first announced in March. We watched as he briefed the public on the latest SOPs regarding movement restrictions taking place in the country under the cabinet of the former PM, Muhyiddin.
Now that he’s set to rule the country for the foreseeable future (2 years until the next GE, at least), we looked into his professional (and a bit of his personal) life to get a better idea of just who Ismail Sabri is.
1. He is the shortest-serving Deputy PM for only 40 days
It was announced that Sabri had clocked into the Deputy Prime Minister’s (DPM) office in Putrajaya on July 9, 2021. He was promoted from senior minister to assist the then PM in managing the country and fulfilling the people’s needs in economic and health crises.
If sworn in as planned, Sabri will be promoted again as the nation’s 9th PM at 2.30PM on August 21, 2021, which puts the duration of his reign as DPM at a total of 40 days.
He will be the shortest-serving DPM to date, after Wan Azizah Wan Ismail’s reign of 1 year, 279 days as the right-hand man to Mahathir Mohamad after Pakatan Harapan won GE14 in 2018.
2. He came from a background in law
When he was elected as our Defence Minister, many Malaysians doubted his competency because he had no prior experience in the role.
Sabri himself confessed in an interview with NST, “I have no experience as defence minister. I had never been entrusted [with] that portfolio. However, I can always refer to and study ministerial records and decisions made to understand all matters related to the ministry.”
Instead, his training is in the field of law, where he pursued a Bachelor of Law in the University of Malaya in 1980 and wrote a thesis, “Treatment of political detainees in Malaysia”.
He began his career as a lawyer in 1985 before being appointed Member of the Temerloh UMNO Division Committee in 1987. That was the start of his political career.
Since then, Sabri has held several different ministerial positions, including in Agriculture, Domestic Trade, Rural Development, Defence, and now, Prime Minister.
3. His wife picks out his kuih-like batik shirts
Sabri was once the joke of town for wearing colourful batik shirts during his daily press conferences. Viewers even compared his shirts to Ramadan delicacies.
Apparently, his wife is the one who chooses what he should wear based on how well it would match the other things he’s wearing.
He also told NST that he was actually happy to be receiving such reactions from viewers, because he saw it as a positive sign that people were tuning in to the daily press conferences for updates about the latest MCO and CMCO news.
4. He has family members who are popular in the creative arts scene
Sabri’s son, Gadaffi Ismail Sabri (or more popularly known as Dafi) is a singer, and was a participant in Season 5 of the reality show, Akademi Fantasia.
Meanwhile, his daughter Nina Sabrina is the wife of fashion designer Jovian Mandagie, who occasionally gives Sabri fashion advice on what to wear for press conferences.
5. He’s the first PM who isn’t an UMNO president
Sabri’s appointment as PM makes him the first UMNO PM who is not the party’s president—he is just one of 3 vice-presidents. The support of 114 lawmakers was enough for a simple majority to convince the Yang di-Pertuan Agong of his candidacy for the PM position.
Following this announcement, Malaysia’s longest-governing political party, UMNO will be set to reclaim the premiership after its loss in the 2018 elections.
6. He has no known corruption cases
Malaysia is no stranger to having its politicians get arrested for corruption. But thus far, Sabri has no known corruption cases, though he’s racked up a list of controversies over the years as a minister.
Some racial-sensitive ones include his alleged 2015 Facebook comments urging Malays to boycott Chinese businesses to force them to reduce prices in line with falling oil prices. This caused offence to a few parties, including the DAP to lodge a police report against that statement.
In the same year, Sabri caused more controversy when he proposed a “Low Yat 2”, a digital gadget mall that would only house Malay traders to compete with the existing Plaza Low Yat. Liow Tiong Lai, MCA’s then-president, revoked that the setting up of Low Yat 2 would only hurt racial relations, and described the idea for a bumiputera-only mall as an “antagonistic approach.”
Fellow UMNO member Saifuddin Abdullah also criticised the proposal, claiming that Sabri’s proposal would be detrimental to Malays and Malaysians in general.
These are just two of Sabri’s known controversies, but it leaves no doubt for the fact that Sabri is a polarising figure due to his views and statements.
Muhyiddin is leaving Sabri with a heavy responsibility to bear. All eyes will be on the new PM to see if he has what it takes to turn the tides of Malaysia’s fate amidst the pandemic.
His past controversies have already left some Malaysians with much doubt about his ability to propose and implement positive change and growth for the country, and the ball is in his court to change their minds.
Featured Image Credit: Ismail Sabri Yaakob