Ne’er a merrier family

pic credit: Istana Negara

AS MOST members of the previous Cabinet were reappointed alongside the same special envoys with ministerial status to boot, those who were still trying to grasp what the new promotional tag “Keluarga Malaysia” or Malaysian Family means, should wonder no more.

It had nothing to do with the rest of the nation. Newly-minted Prime Minister (PM) Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob decided to keep most of the previously big ministerial family, albeit a few casualties, home.

It only stands to reason for him to do so — he was, after all, a key member in the previous administration which was roundly denounced as a failed government and Cabinet.

If he were to remove and replace most of the Cabinet members, it would mean that he accepted the popular verdict that it was a failed Cabinet, hence the need to replace most, if not all, its members. Neither will such a move sit well with those dropped as they would become potential thorn on the side sooner than later.

Apart from that, it would also mean that Ismail Sabri himself has to admit that he was part of the failure and that in itself disqualified him from accepting the PM’s post.

So, the next best thing to do is to let his predecessor Tan Sri Mahiaddin Md Yasin take the fall and the rest just moves on. It seems to work somewhat as Mahiaddin’s resignation took the sting out of public outrage despite the unabating number of new cases and deaths from the pandemic.

Furthermore, it would have been wishful thinking and to a lot of degree naïve if the nation expected Ismail Sabri, whose rise in politics had been uneventful and at a time when Umno is shrouded with scandalised leaders, to suddenly find the gumption to be drastic and adventurous. That would have been uncharacteristic.

With that, he opted for the safe and uneventful approach of pacifying and pleasing all quarters that provided him the razor thin majority as did Mahiaddin.

So, he pleases Mahiaddin’s faction from Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia, the Umno faction aligned to him, PAS and other components from Sarawak and Sabah.

As for the Umno’s “court cluster” who were responsible for pulling the rug from under Mahiaddin, Ismail Sabri has some advantage compared to his predecessor.

Though they can, they would think twice about doing the same number as they did on Mahiaddin because Ismail Sabri is from Umno and it would not go down too well with the party’s rank and file.

Of course, there is always the possibility of Mahiaddin and Bersatu returning the “favour” to Ismail Sabri, but it is quite unlikely as that would be to their detriment as well, given public disgust towards them for being turncoats to Pakatan Harapan and Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s faction.

Bersatu will stay and pick the crumbs that come their way and redeeming the injured pride of their president can be pursued later, or never.

PAS will not be a threat either as it is content to have some leaders as ministers and their president sitting pretty as a special envoy without having to prove their mettle and let all the blame of a failed government fall on Umno and Bersatu.

After all, these two parties are the ones jostling for the PM post while PAS has not shown any interest in being part of the circus.

It also stands to reason — given PAS’ demands for the Shariah and Islamic principles be incorporated into the government when they were in the Opposition and now realising that it is not an easy feat to accomplish — it is better to play second fiddle and not take responsibility for not realising the theocratic promises.

It is quite a neat trick. Enjoy the benefits of being part of the government, but at the same time not take responsibility for not pursuing the party’s agenda on the grounds that it is not in the position to demand them. It is not a new trick either. It is one well exploited by junior partners in a coalition.

Similarly in the case of the Sarawakian partners —they too are comfortable not being the mainstay of the coalition as their concern is strictly about their positioning in Sarawak.

Too forward in their role in the federal Cabinet may lead to them facing the backlash back home for failing to redeem Sarawak’s share from the national equation.

It is better to lie low, increase the decibels when it concerns Sarawak’s interests and if not met, the qualifier would be that the main partners in the coalition from the peninsula continues to be Malaya-centric.

It had worked in the past and why should it not work now, and that leaves Ismail Sabri with a comforting Cabinet that is tailored to serve his political interest and those aligned to him and nothing to do with public concerns.

They are stitched together on common interests, though they will continue sharpening their knives. They are quite adept in backstabbing, some multiple times over the same back.

It is a big, happy, family — obese, bloated and dysfunctional to boot.

Shamsul Akmar is the editor of The Malaysian Reserve.