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What now for Ismail after GE defeat?

While the former prime minister may still be relevant in Umno, chances of a political comeback are low, say analysts.

Ahmad Mustakim Zulkifli
2 minute read
Former prime minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob waves as he leaves an election programme in Bera, where he successfully defended his seat at the Nov 19 polls. Photo: Bernama
Former prime minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob waves as he leaves an election programme in Bera, where he successfully defended his seat at the Nov 19 polls. Photo: Bernama

Analysts have played down the odds of a comeback for former prime minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob as a political leader in the wake of Barisan Nasional's (BN) unprecedented losses at the 15th general election (GE15) on Nov 19. 

Speaking to MalaysiaNow, Oh Ei Sun of the Singapore Institute of International Affairs said the Bera MP lacked solid support at the grassroots level. 

"If he were someone charismatic or with strong grassroots support, he could perhaps attempt a political comeback," Oh said. 

"But alas, that is not the case." 

Ismail, an Umno vice-president, made history as the first opposition leader from the party in Parliament. 

He was also the first prime minister who did not also hold the office of Umno president. 

Ismail replaced Muhyiddin Yassin in 2021, after the court cluster led by Umno chief Ahmad Zahid Hamidi withdrew their support for the Pagoh MP, forcing him to step down. 

Armed with his Keluarga Malaysia tagline, Ismail nevertheless became the country's shortest serving prime minister, spending just 14 months in office – two months short of Muhyiddin's tenure and far behind the 22 months of Dr Mahathir Mohamad during his second stint after the 2018 polls. 

He was replaced with Anwar Ibrahim, who was sworn into office after Pakatan Harapan succeeded in forming a coalition government with the cooperation of other parties. 

Ismail's administration was marked by the major floods which swept across the Klang Valley towards the end of December 2021. 

The country also witnessed an increase in inflation rate and food prices following Russia's invasion of Ukraine in February.

Analyst Nik Ahmad Kamal Nik Mahmood said the former prime minister would need a new political strategy. 

"He is still relevant in Umno and is working to contest the party elections to come," Nik Ahmad Kamal of the International Islamic University Malaysia said. 

"Like Hishammuddin Hussein, he must move on to ensure his political survival. As the former prime minister, he still has some grassroots support to contest as vice-president or even president." 

In the event that Ismail runs for president, Nik Ahmad Kamal added, there would be no major risk from a clash with Zahid. 

"He will keep his head down," he added. "The alternative is not to contest, and to lower the political temperature. This, too, could be a strategy." 

The Umno elections, which were already postponed, are expected to be held no later than six months after GE15. 

The previous elections saw Zahid assuming responsibility as Umno president after Najib Razak's resignation in the wake of BN's historic election loss in 2018. 

Rembau MP Mohamad Hasan won the post of deputy president while Ismail, Mahdzir Khalid and Mohamed Khaled Nordin became vice-presidents. 

Oh said Ismail would do well to call an end to his political career. 

"He could look forward to enjoying his supposedly rather comfortable life as a former prime minister," he said. 

"It would be quite humiliating to be roundly crushed by Zahid in an Umno election."