Let’s see how events turn out under Ismail Sabri

Let’s see how events turn out under Ismail Sabri
By Zan Azlee

During the last 17 months, after Perikatan Nasional took over the government from Pakatan Harapan, I had several times discussed the idea of having a unity government or even a confidence and supply agreement. It seemed to be the best way in a situation where the government just seemed to be so unstable.

All throughout that period, both the opposition and the ruling government kept playing the numbers game. Both claimed to have the numbers to make the majority, yet neither side ever produced any concrete evidence to show to the public. There was no vote of confidence in Parliament or any of that sort. There was an emergency declared, though.

And when things took a turn for the worse with regard to the pandemic and eventually the economy, all we could see is that the politicians, MPs and ministers were just squabbling for power. It seemed like the people’s well-being was put in the backseat because these elected leaders seemed to be more obsessed with other things.

The opposition and others wanted the Perikatan Nasional government under Muhyiddin Yassin to be replaced. They called for a motion of no confidence, of which, naturally, it was ignored.

Again, some people (it wasn’t just me, okay?) mooted the idea of a unity government. But with how the two sides have been at daggers drawn, it was unlikely they could ever come together.


Eventually, Muhyiddin caved in and decided to resign, seeing that his leadership was constantly being questioned. Oh, and of course, there was that dozen or so Umno MPs who withdrew support for him. But before he resigned, he did offer a slew of reforms in exchange for the support of the opposition.

I have to admit that it was pretty enticing. Among Muhyiddin’s offers were to enact Undi18 immediately, limit the prime minister to having only two terms in office, and equal allocations for opposition MPs. Was this going to be the closest to a unity government we were going to get? No, it wasn’t. The opposition said it was too little too late.

It was probably a mistake for the opposition parties to turn the offer down. The reforms were exactly what they were fighting for in the first place. And when Ismail Sabri Yaakob was appointed the prime minister, all those offers were pulled off, including the promise to have a general election in July 2022. Seems like we were back to the old Perikatan Nasional government.

But surprisingly, all the opposition leaders acknowledged his appointment and congratulated him. That move got me thinking. Then, even more surprising, Ismail Sabri did the unexpected by engaging with the opposition. He met with the opposition leaders and lo and behold, after their meeting, there was even more acceptance from the opposition.


The three main opposition parties gave their support to Ismail Sabri as long as he prioritises the pandemic, the economy, and the well-being of the people. Ismail Sabri also expressed his desire to include the opposition in the National Recovery Council. Now, this really got me thinking. Could a unity government really happen if both sides seem to be acting civil and sane?

After 17 months, I had really become frustrated and jaded to the point of not even wanting to read the news, discuss with colleagues or talk about the state of the country.

But if positive news of the government and the opposition wanting to work together starts to fill the headlines (yes, I see it as positive), maybe it’s worth getting back into the fold.

I understand that after the announcement of the new cabinet today, many people are quite upset again. Basically, nothing has changed from Muhyiddin’s administration. It’s just musical chairs with the existing people. I agree. Aside from the prime minister, it would seem that the government is no different from the one in office in the previous 17 months.

But I would like to implore that we give it a chance. Ismail Sabri himself has done things that are unexpected by engaging all parties. He has also given each minister 100 days to prove the effectiveness of their administration. Then let’s give it 100 days as well. If it doesn’t work out, then we have the right to voice out, and hopefully, the opposition will, too.

I also understand that many people don’t feel like Ismail Sabri is the right person to be the prime minister based on his career track record. He has never really been an outstanding leader and there have been many controversial issues in his past as well. But again, let’s give it a chance if only because there is no other option.

Ismail Sabri has already been appointed. The opposition has mellowed and is willing to be engaged. There have been some positive initiatives. It’s still early days. As expected, the opposition is all coming out to say that the new cabinet line-up is a wasted opportunity for more change. That’s good because although they said they will support Ismail Sabri, they still need to check and balance.

But for a country that is desperate to be fixed, I think that it is okay for us to give it a chance. Again, I stress that we aren’t giving it a blind chance. There needs to be results and improvements. If there aren’t, then we should criticise. The opposition has also said that they will consolidate and look towards the next general election.

I see this as a good decision to stop rocking the boat in a dire situation. But it needs to be reciprocated by the new government. Give and take. Compromise. It may not be a literal unity government or a confidence and supply agreement, but it’s what we have. We observe and monitor and if it works out, great. But if it doesn’t, then we need to exercise our rights to make it better.

I’m tired and I’m sure many people are, too. What I am proposing may seem to be idealistic, but I also do believe that it is quite rational and sensible after everything we Malaysians have gone through. At the end of the day, I still have hope that we will make it. Selamat Merdeka everyone.

[This article was originally written for and published at Malaysiakini.com]

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