KUALA LUMPUR—Malaysia’s new Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob struck a conciliatory tone in his first national address Sunday, saying he would embrace the opposition in an effort to tackle the runaway pandemic and revive a slumping economy.
A day after being sworn in, Ismail said the political battles that led to a change of government twice since the 2018 elections had been detrimental to the country and distressed the public.
“Let us move forward. Let us stem this grab for political power,” he said, urging all lawmakers to find common ground and work together to help the nation recover.
The new prime minister, 61, said he would invite the opposition to be part of the National Recovery Council and the committee combating COVID-19.
“Political stability must be swiftly achieved through unity, and this includes cross-party cooperation,” he said.
Many view Ismail’s appointment as a return to the status quo. He was the deputy prime minister under the government of Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin, who resigned Monday after less than 18 months in office as infighting in his coalition cost him majority support.
Ismail has sought to set himself apart from Muhyiddin’s government, which has been blamed for failing to curb the pandemic despite a seven-month state of emergency and a lockdown since June.
Ismail obtained the backing of 114 lawmakers for a slender majority—one that also brought Muhyiddin’s alliance back to power and returned the premiership to Ismail’s United Malays National Organization (UMNO). The party led Malaysia since independence from Britain in 1957 but was ousted in the 2018 elections amid a multibillion-dollar financial scandal.
Ismail said the government will purchase an additional six million doses of COVID-19 vaccines, which will arrive next month to boost vaccination efforts. He did not provide further details. He said he believes that once the nation achieves herd immunity, the virus will no longer pose a serious threat. More than half of Malaysia’s adult population is fully vaccinated.
Daily new infections have more than doubled since June to hit a record 23,564 on Friday, bringing the country’s total to over 1.5 million cases. Deaths have surged to above 13,000. The central bank cut its estimated growth forecast this year to between 3 percent and 4 percent due to the lockdown.
Ismail said he understands the public is suffering, as thousands have lost their livelihoods. He said his government will introduce new policies to raise purchasing power and bolster the private sector.
“Let us together, as one big Malaysian family, work to return Malaysia to its level of prosperity we were all once accustomed to. I pledge to work with the people,” he said.
Muhyiddin pulled his party out of the reformist alliance that won the 2018 elections and formed a new government in March 2020 with UMNO and several other parties.
But UMNO was unhappy at playing second fiddle to Muhyiddin’s smaller party. In the end, 15 UMNO lawmakers pulled support for Muhyiddin, causing his government to collapse.