Abdullah's fast rising son-in-law may abandon top party post
KUALA LUMPUR, March 12 – Arrogant. A Racist. A Crony. The epitome of what’s wrong with Malaysian politics. A Malay ultra. The power behind the throne. Too ambitious. Too cocky. Too much in a hurry. Too interfering. Too young. The hidden hand behind the missteps and colossal collapse of Barisan Nasional at the election.
Add all of these together and you still would not complete the list of how Malaysians perceive Khairy Jamaludin, the deputy chief of Umno Youth, MP for Rembau and the son-in-law of Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi.
Thanks to wall-to-wall coverage of him over the past three years in the alternative media and a catalogue of own goals, he has emerged as probably the most disliked person in Malaysia today and the person most likely to have to take the fall for BN’s showing in Election 2008.
The Malaysian Insider understands that Khairy – who until recently was being touted as the next Umno Youth chief and a future minister – could be looking at giving up his position in the youth movement, signaling probably the end of a meaningful political career for the country’s fastest rising star.
In the days after the Opposition took control of five states and denied the ruling coalition its traditional two-thirds majority in Parliament, the knives were being sharpened for the back of the Oxford-educated economist. An Umno division chief, who requested anonymity, said: “The view on the ground among Umno members is that Khairy played a pivotal role in drawing up the list of election candidates. They believe he was trying to be a kingmaker. That is why many candidates were rejected by the divisions and even our own Umno members.
“There is a great deal of anger against him and the PM.
“I think that the feeling of frustration against the PM will only die down if Khairy steps down as Umno Youth deputy chief.’’
If this happens, it will be the end of a career that once seemed destined for the apex of Malaysian politics.
The son of a diplomat, Khairy started becoming noticed after he became special assistant to Abdullah when the latter was the Deputy Prime Minister. He and other aides to Abdullah were instrumental in drawing up the reform agenda that ushered in Abdullah’s term as Prime Minister in November 2003.
They believed that Abdullah had to capture the imagination of a Malaysian public that had become tired of the confrontational politics of the Mahathir era.
The positive results of the March 2004 election bolstered Khairy’s confidence and image, with some politicians already talking about his potential. Even he seemed caught up with his new aura of power and seemed ready to push the envelope with civil servants and party apparatchiks in Abdullah’s office.
By the end of 2004, the word in power circles was that if you wanted to see the PM or influence policy, you had to meet Khairy first.
Most of this was hyperbole but in this country, perception is 99%. With his rising influence came enemies.
The older Umno politicians were unhappy with a young man who spoke so confidently, sometimes out of turn. What they did not realise was he was not a product of Malaysian education, having studied in boarding school and United World College in Singapore before leaving for Oxford.
The Umno operators in the PM’s office felt threatened by his growing influence and labelled him an enemy. By 2005, Khairy left the office, sensing that he had become a burden to Abdullah. He told friends that he could not work effectively as a senior aide to the PM because of all the talk about him being the son-in-law and being the real power behind the PM.
But instead of taking a lower profile, he soon started climbing up the political ladder in Umno, culminating with him being unchallenged for the deputy chief position in the youth wing. In corporate circles, he earned the tag of a fixer, someone who could help obtain approvals for big-ticket projects.
Those who know him from his school days say he seemed to become more of a Malay nationalist as he rose up the ranks in Umno.
In a way, this is what happens to anyone who joins the party – they have to conform to an ethos and value system. The more he took on the persona of an ultra, the more he was viewed as acceptable by the rank and file in the party. In contrast, many non Malays started to have serious misgivings about him.
He spooked many when he defended the action of Umno Youth chief Hishammuddin Hussein to carry a keris at the opening of the party assembly. He also lost more fans when he claimed that the Chinese community in Malaysia would take advantage of the Malays if Umno were weak.
He seemed to have concluded that he needed the support of Umno more than he needed the support of Malaysians.
His supporters argue that he was doing what Mahathir Mohamad, Najib Tun Razak and Anwar Ibrahim had also done – played to the Malay gallery to rise to the top and then moderated their views once they reached their political goal.
But there was one major difference between then and now.
Now there is the Internet, SMS and other alternative media platforms, and any mistake can be amplified to every corner of the country. Bloggers and websites pulverised him and turned him into an ogre. Their views went largely unchallenged and Raja Petra Kamarudin’s Khairy Chronicles – despite its liberal mix of fact and fiction – became the defining profile of the young politician.
From Bukit Kayu Hitam to a speck of a town in Sarawak, people know all about the misadventures of Khairy. They do not know what he actually looks like, have not had any dealings with him but every one of them can yet recall a negative story about him.
The main thrust of their anger is that Khairy is a corrupt, power-hungry politician who was working the PM like a puppet master.
If he was allowed a free run to the top of the political office, it would be disastrous for Malaysia, they agreed.
Umno politicians told The Malaysian Insider that it was a myth that Khairy influenced policy or made decisions on behalf of the PM. For proof, just look to the return of the old brigade – Zainuddin Mydin, Aziz Shamsudin and Tengku Adnan Tengku Mansor – which shows that Khairy had limited influence on important issues like the selection of candidates, they point out.
Says an Umno Supreme Council member: “The problem is that Khairy did not discourage the perception that he was all-powerful. It worked in his favour because it earned him the respect of the business community and Umno politicians.
“So now it is too late to say that he has nothing to do with the selection of candidates or the election strategy. Party members want someone to take responsibility for the election. That is the nature of Umno politics. If it is not Khairy, it will have to be Pak Lah.’’
Khairy knows this fact and that is why he will need to step down before the branches and divisions begin their meetings in May. Otherwise, they will hammer his father-in-law, and that is a price the son-in-law is not willing to pay.
- THE MALAYSIAN INSIDER