FORMER prime minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob is totally sidelined in Umno and has a slim chance of retaining his position as vice president in the coming party polls, political observers and Umno leaders said.
The consensus is that Ismail is paying the price for not being in Umno president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi’s camp and for pushing for an alliance with Perikatan Nasional (PN) instead of Pakatan Harapan (PH).
They also told The Malaysian Insight that another factor playing against Ismail was most of his loyalists were dropped from the candidate list for the last general election.
Universiti Teknologi Malaysia political analyst Dr Mazlan Ali said that Ismail was not a strong figure in Umno anymore because he did not take the opportunity to strengthen his position as vice president when he had the chance.
“Zahid as Umno president is still in a strong position and is in control of the party.
“Meanwhile, Ismail has been seen as not supporting Zahid, controlling his own bloc of (Umno) supporters,” he told The Malaysian Insight.
Mazlan said Ismail’s only hope of remaining relevant in the party is to stand against Zahid at the party polls – and win.
However, Mazlan said this would be a tall order for the Bera MP.
“His chances are slim and even his current position is not safe, as Zahid might nominate his people to stand against him.”
Mazlan said that it was clear that the leaders who were supporting Ismail had also been sidelined, pointing to prominent figures such as Tajuddin Abdul Rahman, Shahidan Kasim, Noh Omar and Annuar Musa, who were not even selected to stand in the last general election.
“We can see that those who are not aligned with Zahid were dropped, so, it’s going to be difficult going up against Zahid in the party polls. Ismail’s political future looks bleak.”
He also added that as prime minister, Ismail was not an aggressive leader and was following Zahid’s instructions.
University of Tasmania professor of Asian studies James Chin believes that Ismail has been forgotten in Malaysian politics and sidelined by Zahid.
“The reason is because he opposed Zahid and backed PN.
“He will also face difficulties in defending his position if he is not part of the larger team (Zahid’s camp).”
Chin said Ismail’s only chance to remain relevant was to defend his position in the party in coming polls.
“However, he has limited grassroots support, maybe even less now.
“Umno culture is based on patronage. Since he is no longer the prime minister, people ignore him.”
International Islamic University of Malaysia’s Tunku Mohar Tunku Mohd Mokhtar said Ismail seems to be quiet now after his failed attempt to align Umno with PN.
“He was not even considered by Umno’s top leadership to be in the new cabinet at all.
“He can remain relevant either by mounting a successful challenge against Zahid or simply toe the line and wait for the next opportunity.”
Tunku Mohar added that the weakened position of Ismail’s faction reflected upon the former PM’s position within Umno.
“Without loyalists who can shore up support for him, it’s going to be difficult for him to challenge for a higher post.”
However, he said that Ismail would be remembered for the pact he signed with PH that brought back some semblance of stability in the government.
“Other than that, he couldn’t be remembered for any significant policies or programmes.”
Umno Sungai Besar division head Jamal Md Yunus paints a bleak picture of an Ismail only interested in self-preservation and not helping his fellow members.
Meanwhile, Umno Sungai Besar division head Jamal Md Yunus said Ismail’s political lifespan was already over.
He said Ismail should not stand at all, but instead help Zahid to strengthen his position as president.
Jamal said if Ismail does plan to stand, he will definitely lose because he is rejected by the grassroots.
“His biggest problem is that former prime minister Najib Razak was jailed when he was the prime minister, which lost him the trust of the grassroots.
“If Ismail runs for any position, including to defend his vice presidency, I am sure he will lose.”
Jamal also said Ismail’s shaky position was due to his failure, prompting BN to lose badly in the general election.
“Ismail as a poster boy was seen as very passive in helping BN candidates campaign, unlike the aggressive campaigning of PH and PN.
“This poster boy never left Bera when the surrounding areas were all lost. I mean, he only made sure his area won and other places did not.”
Petaling Jaya Umno division chief Mutalif Abdul Rahim said there was nothing wrong in having differences of opinion in the party as long as it did not lead to a split in the party.
He said that currently the Selangor leadership was actively going to meet the grassroots to explain about the party’s internal issues.
“This is our president’s mandate, we should accept it with open arms. Support or not is normal, any party is the same.
“The important thing is that we have to respect the president, he has proven his perseverance when this party was in turmoil.”