Promising start by Ismail Sabri

A healthy democracy requires a decent society; it requires that we are honorable, generous, tolerant and respectful.

— Charles W. Pickering, American politician

All eyes are on newly minted Prime Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob this week as he began to exercise his duties as the head of government.

Replacing Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin during a crucial time in the anti-pandemic fight as well as the battle to revive the economy, the margin for error for the Bera MP is very limited.

Ismail’s appointment was lukewarm at best, seeing as the former deputy prime minister does not have his share of controversies and all his life, he is known as a hard worker — one that leads by example rather than resorting to rhetoric to boost his popularity.

Charismatic isn’t the word one would describe the Umno vice president, especially in a party of blue-blooded aristocrats.

The likes of Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak; Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Tun Hussein and others — all of them received their education overseas besides being second generation politicians, but not Ismail.

The former rural and regional development minister was a law graduate from Universiti Malaya (UM) and is the son of a farmer.

That probably moulded his political career, being a hard-working, no-nonsense politician which to be fair, served him well since being elected as MP in 2004.

So, it is little surprise that among his early acts in office as the ninth prime minister, before even announcing his Cabinet line-up, is to invite the leaders of opposition parties over for a meeting.

The meeting, which lasted over an hour at the premier’s office, was focused on how best to handle the Covid-19 crisis, save lives and revive the economy.

He even issued a joint statement with the Opposition leaders — Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) president Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, Democratic Action Party (DAP) secretary-general Lim Guan Eng and Parti Amanah Negara (Amanah) president Mohamad Sabu.

If anything, it showed the pragmatism of the premier in wanting the nation to recover, knowing that a political ceasefire is needed to bring Malaysia forward despite the challenges.

It remains to be seen whether the meeting will transpire other changes in the way things are being run, but regardless, it is a good start.

It is also in tandem with the decree of the Yang di-Pertuan Agong for the nation to move away from politics and work as one in remedying the current crisis.

On Friday, that pragmatism continued when he unveiled his new Cabinet lineup — making key changes to crucial portfolios and retaining those who he deems are performing adequately in their role.

Among the major changes was the appointment of Rembau MP Khairy Jamaluddin as Health Minister — a surprise given the fact that the former Umno youth chief is not a doctor by profession.

His predecessor Datuk Seri Dr Adham Baba was a physician, same goes for Datuk Seri Dzulkefly Ahmad who holds a doctorate in toxicology. Previously, the health minister position was held by Datuk Seri Dr S Subramaniam, a dermatologist during the Barisan Nasional administration.

Instead, Khairy was a journalist turned presenter who became special officer for former prime minister Tun Abdullah Badawi early in his political career.

In all fairness, Khairy was one of the top performers in Muhyiddin’s Cabinet in his role as the coordinating Minister for the National Covid-19 Immunisation Programme (NCIP).

He played an instrumental role in securing the Covid-19 vaccines as well as managing its rollout. It is hoped that he will continue to perform in a more crucial and demanding role heading the health ministry.

At the same time, Ismail also recognised the need for parliamentary reforms, shelving former de facto law minister Datuk Seri Takiyuddin Hassan who the public blamed for the blunder which strained the relationship between Putrajaya and Istana Negara.

In Takiyuddin’s place, Ismail turned to Sarawak’s own veteran lawyer turned lawmaker — Santubong MP Datuk Seri Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar.

The former Dewan Rakyat deputy speaker’s vast experience in the system of Parliament and law is much needed if the ninth prime minister insists on introducing the necessary reforms to the august House, which was promised by his predecessor Muhyiddin.

Ismail appears to have assembled the right people in government to steer recovery to the nation — with one eye on continuing the previous progress by the ministers in Cabinet.

What is needed of us now is to give Ismail’s administration a chance.