Any questions about who Umno and Barisan Nasional (BN) would put forward as their candidate for prime minister were answered this week, when the country’s biggest Malay party unanimously agreed to name Ismail Sabri Yaakob as its “poster boy” for the 15th general election (GE15).
The announcement put to rest speculation swirling about other possible names including Umno deputy president Mohamad Hasan, who had previously voiced his interest in contesting a seat in Parliament.
However, it also gave rise to further questions about whether the move was part of a ploy by the Umno court cluster to get Ismail’s consent for the dissolution of Parliament, to pave the way for early polls.
Oh Ei Sun, an analyst at the Singapore Institute of International Affairs, believes this might be the case.
“It must have been a compromise struck by the mainstream Umno faction with Ismail, who now has no more excuse to delay the general election,” Oh said.
“In a sense, he has been checkmated.”
Speaking to MalaysiaNow, Oh added that the move did not mean Ismail could now rest on his laurels.
“There could be a thousand and one reasons or grounds not to make him prime minister after Umno wins, especially if it wins big,” he said, adding that a similar situation had played out in Johor, where Hasni Mohammad was touted as BN’s candidate for menteri besar but unexpectedly replaced with Onn Hafiz Ghazi.
Awang Azman Awang Pawi of Universiti Malaya meanwhile agreed that Umno appeared to be trying to speed up the holding of GE15.
However, he said this did not mean that Ismail would end up sharing the same fate as Hasni.
“The likelihood of this happening cannot be determined as the final say lies with the Yang di-Pertuan Agong,” he said.
Kartini Aboo Talib of Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia said the announcement was part of Umno’s strategy to reassure the people who were growing accustomed to Ismail’s leadership.
He said the Bera MP was also being used as bait to attract the support of voters.
“Ismail might be able to defend his parliamentary seat through his dedication and successful management of the country so far,” he said.
“But Umno should realise that the trend in the appointment of the prime minister is changing – it’s no longer a given that the person must be the Umno president.”
He said the appointment would be made openly, determined through the support of the majority of MPs and agreed to by the Agong through Articles 40 (2) and 43 (2)(a) of the Federal Constitution.
Umno in a statement on April 14 had also ruled out any extension of the memorandum of understanding (MoU) inked between the government and Pakatan Harapan (PH) last year.
Awang said the position of the MoU had become more fragile following Umno’s announcement of Ismail as its prime ministerial candidate.
Oh meanwhile said the opposition did not appear ready for an election.
“Voters have long since rejected them, and many have returned to their support of BN. This will not change barring a big scandal or a misstep by the government bloc,” he said.
Kartini meanwhile referred to a recent statement by Permatang Pauh MP Nurul Izzah Anwar which he said encapsulated the condition of the opposition, in particular PH.
“She said PH would need more than 10 years to make a comeback,” he said.
“This means PH has lost even before it contests. The opposition will face its share of challenges at GE15.”