Part 1 – Umno’s resistance to change
16 Feb 09
WHO would be envious of Khairy Jamaluddin?
Despite his meteoric rise within Umno and the doors that were presumably opened to him as the prime minister’s son-in-law, the changing political tide means the 33-year-old now has to swim against currents. And swim he does.
With Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi’s exit as premier and Umno president accelerated to March 2009, Khairy will now be slugging it out in politics in his own right.
In the last Umno polls, Khairy won uncontested the post of deputy Youth chief. But in the upcoming polls in March, Khairy is vying for the Youth chief position in a three-corner fight with Datuk Mukhriz Mahathir and Datuk Seri Dr Mohd Khir Toyo.
The shifting political winds also means shifting political fortunes. Not just for first-time Member of Parliament Khairy; there have also been seismic shifts in Malaysian politics, as demonstrated by the Barisan Nasional (BN)’s drubbing in the 2008 general election, and the subsequent Permatang Pauh and Kuala Terengganu by-elections.
In the first of a three-part interview with The Nut Graph conducted on 2 Feb 2009, Khairy talks candidly about why the BN and Umno are resistant to change, and mulls the long road ahead.
TNG: With the Kuala Terengganu by-election, the BN has suffered a third defeat in less than a year. What’s your assessment of what’s going on for the BN, for Umno, and for voters?
Khairy Jamaluddin: I think we’re not through with the aftershocks of March 2008. I suppose if you were to use an analogy, if there was an earthquake, these are the after-tremors. If there was a tidal wave, these are the smaller waves that come after. Maybe we’re not entirely 100% over it.
However, it doesn’t mean that I think we are at a point of no return. Even in Kuala Terengganu we still managed to lock in more than 30,000 votes, which is not negligible. It’s just that we didn’t manage to get the turnout that we wanted. We didn’t manage to sway some of the fence-sitters.
Maybe strategically there were operational problems that we faced compared to PAS. So, in a sense, I think apart from the localised issues, there’s certainly the national, political climate, which is still a little bit hostile towards the BN.
Permatang Pauh I think is a bit different. That’s more of a unique case scenario, because I think [it was] very much about (Pakatan Rakyat de-facto leader Datuk Seri) Anwar (Ibrahim).
Anwar the person?
Ya, notwithstanding the fact that, of course, there was still this aftershock from March 2008. But you can’t [lump] March 2008, Permatang Pauh and Kuala Terengganu [together], because I think Permatang Pauh was a little bit different since it’s Anwar’s home ground.
I think we’re not out of the woods yet, as far as this hostile environment is concerned.
Why do you think people are so hostile towards the BN or towards Umno?
I think in a nutshell it’s because they thought — and I use the word “they” very generally, I don’t like to generalise, but for the purposes of talking about it generally — they thought that we could change and they realise that maybe we can’t.
Do you believe that? That Umno or the BN can’t change in response to the signals coming from the ground?
I think we can. It’s just that it’s proved to be more difficult than I thought it would be.
And do you have a sense of why it’s been so difficult? You’re talking about since 8 March, right? That it has been really difficult to bring about change?
Or from even before that?
Before that. I think because 8 March happened, because people believed that we were very reluctant to change… I’ve never said this before, but this is what increasingly I believe, that the ground shifted in 1999 or thereabouts.
Ya. It was pent up for a long time and it needed some sort of catalyst to spark things off. And that happened in the form of [Anwar’s] dismissal.
Now, I would say that in hindsight, 2004 was the aberration. Because the ground already shifted and Pak Lah (Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi) managed to buy time because of the agenda of reform that he promised.
That’s why we got the swing back in 2004, but it wasn’t a permanent swing back. Because as I said the ground had already shifted. The support that he got back was not the support that the BN got circa [the] early 1990s, before 1999. It was borrowing back the support that we lost, you see. So, just as easily as we got that support, it was just as easy for it to evaporate in 2008. That’s really what happened.
So, if people tell me that everything changed on 8 March 2008, I’d say no, everything changed in 1998. And [in] 2004, we managed to prevent it from dealing us a death blow because of that (reform) agenda. And [then] people felt that, “Yeah, we voted for [the BN] in 2004, we voted for you to change, but you couldn’t.”
And it’s so resistant, change is so resistant within the BN. That’s why in 2008 they said, “That’s it. Gave you one chance.”
What do you think is causing this kind of resistance towards change? Especially in a climate where it’s very clear that the ground is demanding for some change to occur.
I’ve said this before. It’s extremely difficult for not a party, but an institution and a power structure that’s been in place for 50 years — more — to give up that very thing that keeps them there. And that’s precisely what people are asking for.
Divestment of power, is that what they’re asking for?
I’m getting there. There are bread and butter issues to be concerned about. There are grassroots issues to be concerned about. But overall, generally speaking, the one thing that ties everything together, ties the discontent together, is this demand for the BN and especially Umno to get rid of this command and control mindset.
And I said this during my Off the Edge interview that that’s really the crux of the problem. To Umno, the road to power has always been through command and control.
Control everything, control the voters, control what they think. If they don’t fall in line, then command them to do so. That was the power equation of the past. And after 1998, people said, “Well, enough of that. It’s the other way around.” It’s not command and control of Umno, it’s supposed to be about the mandate from the people.
And I think when we fail to read those signals … well, I think we read those signals in 2004, we certainly did. That’s why we got the biggest mandate ever.
It’s not a simple case of a honeymoon prime minister. A honeymoon prime minister may get you a bump of, I don’t know, 10%, but certainly not a parliamentary majority of 91% to 92%, and winning almost every single state. It’s never happened before.
So, we got the message right in 2004. Now the tough part was in actually doing it. And I think that’s where we fell short. And I think everybody realises… no I take that back, not everybody realises that now.
You see, for a big segment within the party, they think that we failed in 2008 not because we didn’t implement the promise of giving people back more power, and as you said, devolving and divesting all this power that Umno and Barisan Nasional have.
But to a large segment of the party, still, they believe that we lost in 2008 because we didn’t exercise this command and control enough. So, you see, unfortunately the so-called reformers within the party, especially the prime minister… we fell into the doldrums, no man’s land, you know. Because we didn’t reform fast enough for people, and yet we weren’t strong enough, with an iron fist to execute and implement what Umno thought was always best. Which is, you know, no more freedom, threaten people, jail people, beat people with sticks and things like that.
Would you say that there’s still that happening right now in Umno? This kind of like, okay, we should still exert more power, more control.
Of course! Of course, I mean in fact, when they are looking forward to a new leadership, they are looking at somebody who can exercise that sort of strong command, which they were used to.
Of course, they’ve come to their senses about certain things, the realisation that we must not be too arrogant, too sombong, and things like that. But to a large extent, I don’t see how that gels with the message of having more control, because sometimes more control means you have to be less tolerant with ordinary people.
Now, if the party feels that this strategy will work, because (a) you scare people into supporting Umno and BN, and (b) you rally the party base and you hope that that’s enough to win elections, I’m not sure it is anymore.
I think there are a lot more “undecideds” out there. It’s not enough that you get your party base. I mean if John McCain thought by bringing in Sarah Palin he could secure the Republican base to win the elections, then he was proved wrong.
I think there are a lot more people who are independents, who are undecideds out there, even in Malaysian politics today. And that’s what gave us such a big victory in 2004, and that’s what gave us such a rude awakening in 2008.
So if you were given the opportunity to draw up a plan to reform Umno and the BN so that they could continue to be the ruling coalition, what would be in your plan? If you were given an opportunity, a white sheet of paper to do a mind map…
That’s the most remote of hypotheticals (laughs).
But surely as a young leader, you have ideas, right?
No, it’s very difficult. First of all, you take out whatever it was that we promised in 2004 and you do it in earnest. It’s not that difficult, actually. It’s not difficult to map it out. The more difficult part is actually [to] do it.
To execute it?
To execute it.
And to bring people around to the idea that there needs to be reform?
And you mentioned the reformists in Umno as well. But the thing is, I think the public, especially since 8 March 2008, is not hearing about reformists in Umno. I mean, the one reformist we heard of (Datuk Zaid Ibrahim) got sacked. So, what about this reformist wing in Umno that you’re talking about? Is it big? What future does it have?
I don’t know if it is that big, but there are some people who think that way. But, you see, the party base has been… political parties, when they are presided over for too long by one person, end up becoming the image of that person. And Umno is in the image of somebody who presided over it for a very long time.
You’re referring to (Tun) Dr Mahathir (Mohamad)?
Clearly lah! (laughs). So whatever it is you want to call it, Mahathirism or whatever, that’s the party.
But surely you can’t always point fingers at him. Yes, he left a particular kind of legacy, but when new leaders come into the picture, then the new leadership surely must also show new ways.
You can show new ways, but when the party has been conditioned in a particular way of doing things for the last two decades, at least after 1987, that’s just the way they think, you know. That’s just the way they operate, that’s their default ideology.
So it’s very difficult. I mean, you know, you talk to an average Umno person and they’ll tell you, “You shouldn’t have so much freedom of the press”; “Why are they talking about the Umno elections?”, you know…
I mean, how do I reconcile myself to that kind of view? I don’t know where that comes from. It must come from somewhere. You know, “Pak Lah is too open” — how do you explain that? If I don’t point to a particular legacy, then I’ve got to find the root cause somewhere. There must be a root cause.
I’m not faulting him. I mean, that’s just the legacy. I’m not saying it’s good or bad, but I’m saying it has left us with a particular problem today. And if the public, if the voters, non-Umno people are rejecting us because of these things, then you can’t say it’s because of the new administration. I mean, everybody has to squarely shoulder the blame for this.
Sure. I’m just going to play devil’s advocate because people are going to say that you’re coming off sounding like you’re defending your father-in-law. And also continuing to say that, look, Mahathir is the source of a lot of problems within Umno. But do you think, then, that Pak Lah, despite being really well-intentioned about reforms, was incapable of providing a different kind of reality that could at least challenge the reality that was left behind by Mahathir? And do you think that was one of his failures as a leader?
I think that certainly there were instances where I feel that more could have been done. And we didn’t; the prime minister didn’t push hard enough.
But it was very difficult to do it, because I think he was undermined within the party itself. Not just by his predecessor, but also by people within who didn’t share these views. And who felt that 2004 was won because of them, when really it was won because of him.
I think if you ask [the voters], they voted for him, not for the party. And when [those within the party] turned their back against him, and undermined him at every single turn, that’s when he couldn’t function properly.
And unfortunately, he doesn’t have a ruthless streak to him. Which is just the man’s character — you can’t teach people that. So I guess he was outmanoeuvred at every turn by people who didn’t want to see things change.
Do you think you could give a “for instance” of one of the things that you think was a lost opportunity for the BN?
Lost opportunity, I mean the bills on corruption and judiciary only taking place after the elections, after the “defeat”, could’ve been put front and centre much earlier, but it wasn’t.
There was a cabinet revolt when he asked them to declare their assets. They were set to resign if they were asked to do so. So, those were clear-cut instances of things that were second-guessed.
So he was emasculated, you think, by the party itself?
I wouldn’t go so far as to say that. That’s pathetic. But I think that maybe they couldn’t accept the changes. He put a donor-organ into some body that rejected it.
Sure. That’s a really good analogy. Going forward, do you have any optimism or not, that Umno, and by extension, the Barisan Nasional, can reform and rejuvenate itself?
Well, I must have some optimism, otherwise I must have some sort of death wish. Because I spend most of my time away from my family campaigning for this position. And if I’m doing it for nothing more than just wanting the position then there must be something wrong with me. So, obviously I still do believe that things can get better. However, I’m very realistic about this and I think that it’s going to be a long, long road to recovery.
Part 2 – Mapping change
17 Feb 09
KHAIRY Jamaluddin knows that he is still the underdog in the upcoming Umno Youth chief race. While Datuk Mukhriz Mahathir’s nominations rushed in from the very beginning, nominations for Khairy merely trickled. Even the nominations for former Selangor Menteri Besar Datuk Seri Dr Mohd Khir Toyo saw quicker action.
That hasn’t stopped the 33-year-old in his tracks; Khairy continues to aggressively seek the spotlight. Very soon after he qualified for the Umno Youth chief contest, Khairy suggested an open debate among the qualifying nominees. His suggestion has yet to be taken up by incumbent Youth chief Datuk Seri Hishamuddin Hussein.
On 9 Feb, following the Perak political fiasco, Khairy led a demonstration against Datuk Seri Mohammad Nizar Jamaluddin, who refused a royal order that he resign as menteri besar. Khairy called for Nizar to be banished from the state and was heard rallying the crowd to “do what is necessary” to stop Nizar and his exco from entering the state secretariat the following day.
More recently, Khairy called on all Umno Youth chief and deputy chief nominees to pow-wow together before the upcoming Bukit Gantang and Bukit Selambau by-elections to oil Umno’s election machinery.
What exactly does Khairy envision for Umno and the BN? In this, the second part of Khairy’s exclusive with The Nut Graph, conducted on 2 Feb, he maps out the change he wants to see in Umno and the BN. He even takes time to clarify his stand on hudud after his infamous confrontation with PAS’s Datuk Husam Musa on the matter.
TNG: If you became Umno youth chief, what would you do to ensure Umno and the BN’s survival in the general election?
Khairy Jamaluddin: We have to re-educate a whole new generation of party members and party cadres. And you have to explain to them what it is that we are actually fighting for, and what it is that the public wants. Because I think that, as I said, the default ideology is completely out of sync with the rest of the world — the rest of the country, at least.
And that’s going to take how long, this re-education? What do you think it will entail?
Well, it entails everything. It entails changing modules that need change, going down to the ground. Of course, you can’t force it on them so quickly. It takes time. You still have to speak that language, that old language for some period of time. So make them comfortable with you first, and then sort of slowly introduce the changes.
Maybe the changes before were too abrupt. Maybe there was no buying in of enough stakeholders within the party after the 2004 elections, and they rejected it because of that. And then they felt that there was a cabal of people around the fourth floor that were trying to do this. That might have been the issue.
Do you have a manifesto as one of the aspirants for the Umno Youth chief position?
No, because we’re not allowed to have manifestos. We’re not allowed to have flyers. We all have taglines, but that’s about it.
But if you were allowed to have a candidate manifesto, what would be in your manifesto?
Well, as I said previously, I think we have to strengthen leadership at the grassroots. Umno, like any political party, operates with a massive network of grassroots leaders. We have to look after them properly. Make sure they are engaged, make sure they do programmes.
Make sure we do programmes for non-Umno members as well. I’ve always said that Umno must be inclusive, especially Umno Youth. Sometimes in my four years as Umno Youth deputy leader, I notice that a lot of our functions are only attended by Umno Youth members.
So I said, you know, we have 700,000 members. There are seven million potential young voters out there [for] the next elections. We only represent 10% of young voters, so if we are not inclusive enough with people outside of Umno Youth, then we are not reaching our objectives. Because you can fire up your base, but your base doesn’t account for even 10% of the young electorate.
So my theme has been a lot on inclusivity. You don’t have to force the idea of reform, because naturally by default, once you are more inclusive, once you speak to people outside of the party, you understand what they want, what they’re talking about. And then you can join the themes together.
I’ll give you a very good example. Umno doesn’t understand this crusade against corruption. It understands, but doesn’t really buy into it. It says it’s not the main cause of concern among the voters.
And if you look at any survey that’s done among voters, number one would be economic issues. Issues of price, issues of livelihood, things like that. Corruption would fall [at] maybe number four or number five, not as much as economic issues.
You see, the opposition are clever, because they fuse the two issues together. They say the reason why the government can’t help you, in terms of your livelihood, the reason why your salary is so low, the reason why subsidies are being pulled back is because the government is corrupt. Things are interlinked.
Umno doesn’t understand that. [They think] corruption is not important, people are more interested in, you know, the price of goods. That’s why Umno parliamentarians are vocal about subsidies for rice and things like that. They seem to champion people’s aspirations. Which is fine, but they don’t understand.
[When] the opposition brings up corruption, they don’t know what to say or they oppose it. They don’t understand that the two issues are linked. That to an ordinary person, they say, “Why is the government not helping me?” And the opposition comes on [and says], “The government is not helping you because it’s siphoned off all this money through corruption. Otherwise it could help you, no problems. We’re a rich country. We’ve got oil, we’ve got agriculture, we’ve got commodities, we’ve got [a] high savings rate, but it’s just not being used for you.”
What kinds of themes or issues do you think need to be addressed at the BN convention, coming up this month, hopefully?
I think we need a new articulation of what we call the social contract. I think there’s a sense of, how would I put it, ambiguity maybe. Maybe that’s the term, or a sense of not fully comprehending the social contract in today’s world, for today’s generation.
And also I’d like to see some form of understanding as far as party discipline is concerned. Party discipline means BN discipline, not discipline within each individual party. I like what (Tan Sri Koh) Tsu Koon said a while back. I echoed that suggestion, I expanded on it, which was basically that when party discipline is left to the component parties, they find it very hard to take action against their members, especially when the transgression had to do with some racial remark or some racial problem.
We found it very hard to take action against (Datuk) Ahmad Ismail.
But to your credit, you did.
Yes, we found it very difficult, but we did. Just as Gerakan finds it difficult, and it didn’t take action against the likes of (Datuk) Tan Lian Hoe, (S) Paranjothy, and things like that. [To] some people, what they said — it’s fair.
But to some people within BN, especially Umno, what they said was similar to what Ahmad Ismail said. So when you devolve disciplinary action to the respective parties, it becomes very difficult for them. Because you don’t want to take action against your own members.
So there must be some mechanism where the BN itself can take action against members within their component parties, especially on the issues which cut across ethnic communities, cut across religious beliefs. There must be some sort of code of ethics for BN members themselves.
Would you propose this at the convention?
I think the convention is quite structured. I wouldn’t have a chance to propose it.
Well, this is your chance to propose, I guess.
I very much like the idea that the PM revived, which is direct membership into the BN. They tried it once before, when the Alliance was around in the 1960s, I think. But then it sort of died a natural death. I think a lot of Eurasians joined it because they couldn’t fit.
But I think now you won’t just get the Eurasians or the people who can’t fit into the component parties. I think you’ll get a lot of people, especially [in] urban areas — they don’t want to join Umno, MCA or MIC, and maybe they are traditional BN supporters, so they don’t want to go to the opposition. They may want to give this a chance, you know, to sort of set it up.
Again, the mechanism and structure is tricky because does this entity exist like Umno exists, or is it above that? Who is the president of this? That kind of stuff you have to sort out. I think it’s something worth pursuing instead of saying the BN should be one party or Umno should be open to all races, which clearly is not going to happen because of the entrenched histories of these parties.
You know, start with something like this and naturally, if this is really the aspiration of Malaysians, this entity will grow. And this entity will become a force unto itself within the Barisan Nasional, direct membership. You start getting more and more people joining it, and sooner or later, by natural selection in the evolutionary process, this will replace the other component parties.
It’s a much softer sell, than radically saying we should get rid of MCA, MIC, communal parties, and just have something grow within the family.
What about the Umno assembly in March? What kinds of issues or themes need to be…
There’s no issue or theme lah. It’s an election (laughs). They’ll just be waiting for the results, nobody’s going to talk about [issues or themes].
But while waiting for the results, I expect the usual fire and brimstone, “Hidup Melayu” kind of stuff.
“Jangan cabar ketuanan Melayu” kind of stuff? As you said in your interview with Off The Edge, your party is taking a long holiday on the right.
Exactly, and it will still be there. In March, it will still be there.
(Laughs) Despite the signals on the ground, despite [Kuala] Terengganu, despite 8 March?
Umno people are incestuous, they don’t mix with people. To them the rakyat [are] Umno members lah. (Laughs)
“The rakyat don’t want Pak Lah anymore.” Who’s the rakyat? “Oh, Umno members.”
(Laughs) Are you going to get into trouble for saying these things about your own party?
No, I’m a realist. You know, if you can’t speak honestly about your party’s problems for fear of recriminations from the leadership, from people, or from fear the opposition will use it against you, you’re not being honest. People want to see honesty right now. They want to see if you get it. If you don’t say it, they’ll say, “You’re in denial. Nobody says anything.”
There’s no good me saying it, because maybe KJ has got such a taint that it doesn’t matter what I say today, you know. People won’t care. But I wish other people would say it. If other, less high-profile, leaders in Umno come out and say things like this, [then at least] people get the message.
This time around, you appear to be the least right-wing among the three youth chief candidates. But how do you balance your more centrist discourse now with your party’s race-based struggle? People still remember the keris-waving. All things said and done, apology aside, the imagery is powerful.
I believe that Umno is actually quite a big tent for all sorts of Malays to be part of. And I say this not wanting to recycle what I’ve said before, but only because I think it’s important: The big tent before was guided by this sort of very benign nationalism. You know, Tunku (Abdul Rahman) was unique. He did not have that sort of Malay nationalism per se. His [nationalism] was more that of independence. You know when Tun Abdul Razak came in, the DEB, the New Economic Policy, it was still very benign nationalism. Tun Razak, Tun Dr Ismail, I don’t think anybody can say that they were racists, even though they came up with the New Economic Policy to adjust economic imbalances.
Somewhere along the way, this nationalism became [malignant]. It became sort of more threatening to others. And that’s when I think we lost our way. See, Pak Lah himself represents this tradition of benign nationalism. But then by the time he came into power, the latent ideology down there was very much this anger of wanting to pursue this more confrontational form of nationalism.
Much to his credit also, Mahathir never really went down that way. But because I think he didn’t really look at it or he ignored that part of Malay nationalism, it just became very latent and it was ready to erupt.
And I think that eruption happened, ironically, after the victory in 2004. Because they thought, “This is our time to exert ourselves, since we have this massive mandate.”
Since for the first time for a long time, in 2004, Umno could rule on its own. We had a parliamentary majority of one. A simple parliamentary majority where Umno could have said to hell with the component parties, we can govern on our own.
And I think that gave a blank cheque to [some in Umno] to go on this rampage.
Now, there’s the question, “Why did you do it?”
(Laughs) Do what, sorry?
I mean, why did [I] pander to that as well? (Laughs) I think we were caught in a situation where I saw this bad moon rising, and I didn’t want it personally. And I didn’t want the leadership to be outflanked by this. So, sometimes, when you notice that you can be outflanked, you go out there yourself to make sure that no one else claims that spot.
Now, the problem was obviously a slippery slope, and you can’t control it after a while. And I think that’s where there was a shock for me. That’s why I want to move very quickly to reclaim and try to galvanise the centre again.
[It] may be a little bit of a blessing in disguise because whatever following that I still have in Umno Youth, people who support me, supported me because I was out there in the path. “Oh, this guy is great! He’s really right-wing and vocal.” They would give me the benefit of the doubt to say, “Look, let’s come back to the centre and rebuild”, and still stay with me.
But how are you going to brand this, because if you’re talking about this centre, this big tent, it is Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) that has been branding itself in that way. It is this big tent for Malays, non-Malays? How are you going to sell this?
Well, I would sell it in terms of the fact that I think the tradition is still with us. I think the difference is that, one, I think the tradition is with us. The big tent tradition is really with us. And that it’s very difficult to recreate it from scratch, and I’ll explain why later.
Secondly, there are certain nuanced differences I think between what I believe and what Parti Keadilan, or even Anwar, believes. And I’ve said this before.
One, he is very silent on certain things. He says that, “We’ll help everyone regardless of race, based on need.” That’s pretty much what Anwar said. Anwar said it’s a needs-based policy, rather than anything else. But you see, the NEP is not strictly speaking, needs-based. It’s partly needs-based, in terms of the eradication of poverty for everybody, regardless of race.
But the empowerment of the Malay community actually goes a little bit beyond need because we still empower Malays who don’t need it. For example, in certain sectors where they are not poor per se, but they still need opportunities to break into certain sectors, which have very much been entrenched by or which are majority filled by other communities. That’s where you need help.
For instance, financial services, accountancy, where the hold of non-Malay professionals and companies are very evident, that’s where you help. And it’s not a case of helping a poor Malay, these are clearly Malays who are professional, who are qualified. But you’re trying to build them within certain sectors of the economy. That is something that we do, as in Umno does, which is still consistent with my big tent approach.
But it’s something Anwar is very silent on. Because he says it’s just about the poor Malays. You know, “Umno doesn’t help. Umno just helps the Umnoputras. I want to help the poor Malays.” But he doesn’t go beyond that throughout the socioeconomic ladder to say this empowerment happens right the way across.
So for me it happens right the way across, but not forever. Obviously, once you’ve broken into a certain industry you don’t keep on helping them forever. That’s wrong.
That distinguishes me from the rest of Umno. You see, to me there must be this graduated maxim where you just say once you’ve helped enough you’re on your own lah. Otherwise you can’t survive, you can’t compete. So that’s the thing that defines, or differentiates between what I’m trying to espouse and what the opposition are [about].
Third, and it’s related to the first point where you can’t start from scratch, is that I really, really see fundamental differences between the three parties within Pakatan Rakyat, which for the moment, they are able to gloss over, because they are in search of that one thing that keeps them together, and it’s not Anwar.
The one thing that keeps them together is the promise of power. And they’ve tasted it in five states. And they want to have it at the federal level. They want to have it nationwide. That’s what keeps them together. Not anything else. Even if you tell me [it’s a] shared principle for justice, for freedom, for accountability, that only takes you so far.
But, you know, if you rattle them a little bit on ideological things — an academic debate on hudud, for instance — you see that the gulf is just too wide. And it’s very, very difficult to bring them together. The only thing that keeps them together is this, this sight of power that they’ve seen, this scent of power that they’ve smelled.
And that’s really why I still think that they will not work in the long run. And people will counter-argue and say that, well, power will temper their extreme desires for their own ideology, and that remains to be seen. The problem is, their ideologies cannot be tempered. You can’t temper with God, and that’s what PAS is. And you can’t temper with secularism, or you can’t temper with absolute non-ethnic based equality, which is what the DAP wants. There’s just no grey area.
But for the BN, for Umno and the MCA, because we are more loose, and thank God, we are not the party of God per se, there’s a lot more give and take. And, you know, we’re not ideologically straitjacketed into not being able to compromise. We can compromise. That’s been the beauty of the BN, and ultimately that’s also been our undoing in some sense, but that’s the strength that we have.
Let’s talk a little bit about hudud, because you mentioned it, and there are different reports out there. One which said that you nodded and said you would support the implementation of hudud, that was the Star report. The other one was the YouTube video which showed that you actually said you would support whatever the BN leadership [has in place]. So what is your position on hudud?
Well, clearly if you’ve got a video and a mainstream media report, what do you believe? You obviously believe the video.
It was edited, so we need to check with you.
We can give you a copy of the entire debate. I clearly said, obviously we stick to our policy, the BN policy, which is obviously no hudud lah. You have to understand, with 3,000 PAS members [in the hall], if I had aggressively said, “No hudud” I might not have made it out there alive. (Laughs) I said no.
I said [it] in a way that was very clear to everybody watching the video, or who was there, it was clear. The Star got it wrong, and the next day they published an article which said that I didn’t say it. I think a lot of people missed that article.
Part 3 – Coming into his own
18 Feb 09
ONCE it was clear that Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi would exit as both prime minister and Umno president in March 2009, the favour that Khairy Jamaluddin presumably enjoyed as son-in-law must have evaporated quickly.
But the changing political fortunes and shifting political equations could very well be a blessing in disguise. With Abdullah on his way out, and the Barisan Nasional, especially Umno, facing one its toughest challenges in regaining public support, Khairy now has an opportunity to prove that he’s his own man.
In this third and final part of a 2 Feb 2009 exclusive interview, the Umno Youth chief aspirant and first-time Member of Parliament (MP) for Rembau tells The Nut Graph he believes he is the underdog now. But that doesn’t mean he isn’t confident about who he is and what he has to offer.
TNG: If you fail in your bid to become Umno youth chief, do you think it will then make it difficult for you to gain a prominent position within the party? Especially since Pak Lah (Prime Minister or PM Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi) is seen by many to be your benefactor, and he’s on his way out.
Khairy Jamaluddin: I don’t know. I mean, that’s not a question for me, that’s a question for the incoming Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Najib (Razak), if he needs my services or not.
Do you think Najib is open to the ideas you have about reform?
I think he’s a well-read person. I think he’s a capable guy. I think he understands the problems. It’s not a question of realisation. I think he realises. He’s not like other Umno people who don’t realise. I think he realises. It’s just a question of whether he wants to do it.
Do you think he wants to do it?
Yes, I hope so.
How did you feel about the accelerated transition plan?
(Chuckles) Accelerated transition plan. I told PM, I said, “This is your decision. I’ll support whatever it is that you decide.” And that was precisely how I felt, because by the time they were discussing this transition plan, I thought it’s entirely up to him to decide what’s in the best interest of the party and you go with that.
But did you say that as a son-in-law who has affection for your father-in-law, or did you say that as a party member who has certain ideas about reforming the party?
Maybe when I said, “You decide [on] whatever and I’ll support you”, I said that as his son-in-law. As a party member, I told him, “But decide quickly.” (Laughs) Because whatever it is that you decide, fine.
But the party cannot wait, because we were just about to start the division meetings, and I went up to him and said, “Please decide quickly lah. Either way, it doesn’t matter. You want to go for it, fine, let the chips fall where they may. If you want to go, then let’s go for it.”
Did he seek your advice or your feedback a lot?
Not really. I didn’t speak to him very much because he was very busy, in and out, and I think he was consulting with Datuk Najib quite a lot. So I didn’t get to see him much at that time. I saw him maybe a couple of times.
The first time I couldn’t say very much. I was just asking what was going on. The second time was when I said, (a) [I will] go with whatever you decide, and (b) decide quickly.
Did you feel a sense of disappointment, maybe, that he had decided to give it up much quicker than expected?
I don’t know if I’d categorise it as disappointment, you know? Regret? Not regret in [him] going per se. But maybe regret at what might have been if he had done things differently, or reformed quicker. Things like that.
But he’s always told me, especially when I joined politics, he said, and he always reminds me, “Don’t ever take anything to heart, because this is just a game. And it’s not about your life. This is not your life. Your life is your family, your life is your well-being. This is a game, a game that you’re in because you want to do something for the country. And unfortunately, to help the country you have to be part of this game. You can stop whenever you want, and you can leave. Nobody is asking you to play this game. You are in it by your own volition, your own choice.”
So he said, don’t take things to heart. And to him, basically he said, “Game over.” He didn’t take it to heart. He said when your time’s up, your time’s up.
You know, many people said that your meteoric rise in the party was because you were riding on the coattails of Pak Lah’s prime ministership. Did you ever think of it in that way?
I don’t know how to answer this without eliciting like, thousands of negative comments.
(Laughs) On The Nut Graph? You know, they’re already saying that you’re behind us and you fund us, so it’s okay.
Because to say what I want to say is going to sound damn perasan, man. (Laughs)
I’ll give you this answer: I hope people will judge me [by my actions].
Eh, tolonglah. (Laughs) That is scripted.
Maybe being related opened some doors for me, but ultimately it’s how I perform that will matter. (Laughs)
But it must get your goat sometimes when people try to make that association. It really must rendahkan who you are; by saying,”Oh, without Pak Lah, you cannot make it as a politician. Without Pak Lah, you don’t have ideas, you don’t have vision.” And that must be hurtful at some level.
It’s a game.
Good comeback. But I think there will also be readers who would appreciate it if you respond to the question, because I think a lot more people can see dignity [in it].
It’s okay. I don’t blame them for feeling that way or for thinking that way. Because to a casual observer, I’m sure that’s how it appears. So I can only say, give me some time, and let’s see whether or not I can survive after Pak Lah. Really, that’s the only answer I can give.
Apart from the perasan answer lah (laughs).
Bagilah. You’ve piqued our interest. What is your perasan answer?
Each politician must have confidence in his own ability, you know. I wouldn’t be doing this if I didn’t have innate confidence in my ability.
If I thought that I was just good enough because I’m Pak Lah’s son-in-law, I wouldn’t be doing this. I mean, it’s crazy!
This is a legitimate answer, what!
Related to that question: a lot of people see this Umno youth chief fight as a proxy war between Pak Lah and (Tun) Dr Mahathir (Mohamad), because one has a son-in-law there and another has a son. How do you see it?
You know, when Off The Edge asked me this, I gave an answer that was quite charitable and quite diplomatic.
He has a big problem disengaging from his father’s thought bubble. And I’ve not seen any evidence to suggest that he can.
So he’s just echoing whatever Tun M’s position is? Is that what you’re saying? He’s a parrot of his father?
I wouldn’t want to put it that way, but it appears to me that… I don’t think “parrot” is the word. Maybe he excels more at his filial duties than thinking seriously about problems that we face today. Nothing personal.
I’ve known him for a very, very long time. But I think that’s the case.
So you don’t think this is a proxy war at all.
I’m contesting on my own. Let me be clear about that. People read into the fact that this might be a proxy war. I can’t avoid that interpretation of events. The only thing I would say is that I’m not up against just Mukhriz. I’m up against something more than that.
Which is the thought bubble that he can’t escape from lah (laughs). I mean, why is it only me that has to make this explicit? It’s very obvious that his father takes a very personal interest against me.
So you must be joking if you think that it’s him who’s not up against me. It’s not just Mukhriz. Of course not. Of course he has a deep interest and desire to see me lose this.
Who, Tun M?
Ya! Come on! It’s obvious.
Do you think that the battle is just between you and Mukhriz at whatever level you describe it at? What about (Datuk Seri Dr Mohd) Khir Toyo?
You see, on the ground, Khir is the man to beat. But I have to fight on two fronts lah, you know. I’ve got this personal battle to wage on this side. This guy who wants to bury me alive, his father.
And then this guy who in the meantime is away from this proxy fight, under the radar screen, and using all means necessary to influence delegates, is getting stronger and stronger by the day.
When you say “using all means necessary”, are you referring to money politics?
Not necessarily, but this is a man who, I think, is doing everything imaginable to win.
What do you think your chances are?
So you think you’re the underdog in this particular race?
Still? Do you think anything can happen that would change your fortunes? Or what do you think needs to happen?
For the delegates to choose on merit.
Do you think they can make that shift?
I don’t know.
Do you yourself have ambitions to be prime minister?
No, I don’t have ambitions to be prime minister (chuckles).
No (chuckles). It’s a nice myth, but no. I mean, I’m in this for the ride to see where it ends up. Where it takes me. I enjoy it, I like politics.
But again, I’ve come to accept that it shouldn’t be the be all and end all of your life, and there’s life outside politics and if it doesn’t work out, it doesn’t work out.
So if you don’t win the Umno youth chief position and it doesn’t seem as though your position in Umno is going to be valued especially after Pak Lah leaves, what would you do?
What would I do? Well, I still have a constituency to service. I was voted by the people, the voters of Rembau, and for my remaining time as MP I will serve them. If I’m chosen to run again, I’ll run.
So you’ll still continue to be in politics?
Ya! Sure, why not, I mean that’s my profession for the time being. I’ll keep on doing it for as long as I’m needed.
What are your biggest challenges as a new Member of Parliament?
To be very honest, my biggest challenge at the moment is finding time to go back [to my constituency]. Because I did it regularly, religiously for the first few months, for the first six or seven months or so, I’d go back. But then with the party elections, I can’t.
And I went back recently and we did a function for top-scoring UPSR students and a lot of people were there. So I told them, you know, until the end of March, please excuse me if I don’t come back because it’s party elections.
That eats away at me, because they’ve given trust to someone to represent them and I can’t be there, obviously because this is crunch time. We’ve got 50 days left until party elections. So that’s the biggest challenge.
Do you think that your constituency makes unwarranted demands on you as MP? Things like “Bagilah duit untuk…” or “Clean up my drain, it’s clogged up…”
No, because that’s what they expect. That’s the job of an MP, of a state [assemblyperson], we have to solve people’s problems. Why are you in politics? That’s why you got elected in the first place. So no demand is too difficult to entertain. Whether you can solve it or not is a completely different matter. There are certain things you can solve. You just have to be honest and say you can’t do this.
You have a service centre, right?
So that’s your way to connect with your constituency?
Ya, but I’m personally not satisfied. You can have a service centre. It’s well staffed, I’ve got a few people working there. But it’s still different, you know; seeing your MP in person is different from seeing a handler or an assistant.
How do you juggle between doing party work, being an MP, and being a father and a husband?
(Chuckles) I don’t know, it’s a bit difficult because I have a young family. My second son is only less than two months old. And I’ve hardly seen him at all.
I’m thankful because Nori (Abdullah), she’s [the] daughter of a politician. Pak Lah’s been in politics for as long as she remembers. He joined politics in 1978, she was born in 1976. So she just understands that. So she’s very understanding in that sense.
But it’s not her that I’m worried about, it’s me. Because I miss them a lot. You know, when I’m out, when I go back, they’re asleep. It’s tough lah. Very difficult.
Do you feel that it’s a huge sacrifice?
It’s a huge sacrifice. This is the biggest sacrifice. The family part of it is the biggest sacrifice.