KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 21 — Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob has been sworn in as Malaysia’s ninth prime minister today, to lead Umno back into the driving seat of the country after his party helped engineer the fall of a government forged from a crisis just 17 months ago.

The former deputy minister was appointed by the Yang di-Pertuan Agong on the back of support from 114 MPs including from Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia, the splinter party whose rule was put to an abrupt end after some Umno MPs retracted their support for Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin.

Ismail, just 61, was sworn in at a palace ceremony in front of the king, Al-Sultan Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah, where he pledged to fulfil his duties as prime minister. The ceremony was held briefly, for about fifteen minutes.

The Bera MP will take office amid heightened public concern about the worsening economy and the Covid-19 pandemic as the country is ravaged by the more contagious Delta variant, which has driven cases up in the five digits.

Analysts said his first task would be to pick a Cabinet lineup that could command public support capable of dealing with the exacerbating public health crisis, although some said they are sceptical.

The Umno vice-president himself had faced strong criticism as a senior minister put in charge of security for the fallen Perikatan Nasional government.

His decision to waive the mandatory quarantine order for those returning from the Sabah state election in October last year was seen as one of many missteps that had worsened the outbreak.

Today, the daily positive Covid-19 cases dipped to just over 22,000 after a record high at over 23,000 just as the Palace announced Ismail’s appointment.

There is speculation that Ismail could still consider forming a unity government consisting of members of the Opposition although none of the opposing side have come out to confirm the rumour.

Both allies and opponents have called on the new prime minister to fill his Cabinet with new faces, citing the failure of the previous lineup to deal with the Covid-19 crisis effectively.

Several rival politicians have congratulated Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob on his selection to be the next prime minister albeit with criticism from their own supporters.

Last night, Opposition Leader and head of Pakatan Harapan Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim said the main opposition bloc would accept the Agong’s decision but urged the new government to double efforts to rein in the coronavirus outbreak and put the economy back on track.