Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob is set to announce his first Cabinet reshuffle since assuming top office in August, in what could be a test of his ability to hold his coalition government together despite the growing bad blood between Bersatu and the Umno faction led by former leader Najib Razak, MalaysiaNow has learnt.
It is reliably learnt that the reshuffle could happen as early as next month although one Umno source said it would see no major changes in line-up.
Attention, however, will be on Bersatu and other Perikatan Nasional (PN) ministers and deputy ministers.
Any changes to the current equilibrium of parties in the Cabinet will have to ensure the coalition government can remain united despite the constant bickering and attacks, especially between Umno and Bersatu.
In that aspect, a source close to Ismail’s inner circle told MalaysiaNow that his balancing act to maintain the Cabinet’s unity was more difficult than that of Dr Mahathir Mohamad.
“In Mahathir’s case, there was constant bickering especially between Bersatu and PKR, but everything was hushed although the show of unity proved to be short-lived.
“Ismail also has to deal with his own party bosses who are constantly attacking his ministers. And Umno’s recent victory in Melaka has led to growing pressure on Ismail to sideline PN ministers to junior posts,” said the source.
Najib recently launched an open attack against Finance Minister Tengku Zafrul Aziz, as the former prime minister stepped up his calls for the government to allow withdrawals from the Employees Provident Fund (EPF).
“Don’t listen to the advice of the outdated PN finance minister,” Najib had said.
But sidelining parties other than Umno would be suicidal for Ismail, as it was the support of some 50 MPs from PN which had brought him to the top office.
A source said Ismail, despite being an “accidental prime minister”, was not unaware of the political repercussions should he be seen as allied with Najib.
“So far, he has shown that he doesn’t have to listen to Bossku,” the source said, referring to Najib’s self-styled title.
“He has given Najib a nominal role as economic adviser, and he has given Muhyiddin Yassin, Najib’s arch enemy, the very powerful position of leading the post-pandemic recovery plans.
“And the fact that Najib’s political destiny, as is Zahid’s, looks set to be doomed owing to their corruption trials, Ismail knows how to handle voices from outside,” the source added.
Whether or not the reshuffle will cost PN key Cabinet positions is just part of the issue.
Ismail also has to manage the anti-Najib faction in Umno, the source added.
“They include Hishammuddin Hussein, Khairy Jamaluddin, Shahidan Kassim and Annuar Musa, not to mention leaders from component parties who have shown they are not in the mood to have Najib and Zahid running the show.”
Most Umno, MCA and MIC Cabinet members had rejected a proposal by Najib and Zahid to quit Muhyiddin’s government, at the peak of the duo’s campaign to bring down the PN government in July.
With Najib’s conviction, and Zahid likely to share his fate, Ismail has a chance to survive until the next general election which must be called in 17 months.
Until then, whether he will be the shortest reigning prime minister remains to be seen.