Ismail Sabri: A brief look at the career of Malaysia’s next prime minister

Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob is pictured boarding a bus ahead of his audience with the Yang di-Pertuan Agong at Istana Negara in Kuala Lumpur August 19, 2021. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa
Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob is pictured boarding a bus ahead of his audience with the Yang di-Pertuan Agong at Istana Negara in Kuala Lumpur August 19, 2021. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa

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KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 20 — Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob was named as the ninth prime minister of Malaysia today, after the Yang di-Pertuan Agong was satisfied that he has the support of 114 lawmakers or enough for a simple majority.

Ismail Sabri is arguably the country’s most unexpected prime minister to date, having been catapulted to prominence by becoming the Opposition leader when Umno president Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahidi Hamidi stepped down from the role.

He will also be the first Umno prime minister who is not also simultaneously the party’s president, as Ismail Sabri is just one of three vice-presidents.

However, he is no stranger to the government and has held seven Cabinet positions since 2008.

Although Ismail Sabri is the shortest serving deputy prime minister of Malaysia — on duty for only 40 days, from July 7 up until the Cabinet resigned on August 16 — the Umno vice-president has a long-standing career in government.

He first served in a ministerial position as youth and sports minister in 2008, under former prime minister Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi.

Then in 2009, when Datuk Seri Najib Razak took over as the prime minister, Ismail Sabri was given the domestic trade, co-operatives and consumerism portfolio.

In the following years of Najib’s leadership, Ismail Sabri was agriculture and agro-based industry minister (2013 to 2015), and then, rural and regional development minister (2015 to 2018).

One of his most notable initiatives from this time was his attempts in 2014 and 2015 to make farmers independent of middlemen, launching extensive campaigns to free some 580 farmers’ markets nationwide in what he called a “jihad against the middlemen.”

However, when Pakatan Harapan (PH) won the 2018 general elections, Ismail Sabri was temporarily ousted from any ministerial position, although he was soon appointed as Opposition Leader in March 2019.

After the fall of PH, Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin appointed Ismail Sabri as both senior minister (security cluster) and defence minister in March 2020 — and he was promoted to deputy prime minister this year, dropping his senior ministerial role.

Ismail Sabri’s career has also not been without controversy. In 2015, he called on Malays to boycott Chinese businesses to make the latter reduce prices in line with falling oil prices.

Later that year he proposed the creation of a “Low Yat 2” — referring to the prominent electronics mall Low Yat Plaza in Bukit Bintang — that would only house Malay traders.

These moves were criticised heavily by some prominent Malays and non-Malays who said Ismail Sabri was fanning racial tensions.

Ismail Sabri has a Bachelor of Laws degree from University of Malaya.

He has served as the Member of Parliament for Bera, undefeated since 2004.

Ismail Sabri will be sworn in as the new prime minister at 2.30pm tomorrow.

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