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Coming into his own


(File pic by Danny Lim)

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.


(Pic by Kamal Sellehuddin / Flickr)
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)

Say lah.

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.

Sure.

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!


Mahathir (Pic by Samsul Said / Flickr)
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?

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?

Not good.

Not good?

Not good.

So you think you’re the
underdog in this particular race?

Still.

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).

Not ever?

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.


Khairy and his supporters in Rembau during the March 2008 general election (File pic by Danny Lim)

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?

Ya.

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?


With his wife Nori in Rembau, March 2008 (File pic by Danny Lim)

(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.

See also:
Part I: Umno’s resistance to change

Part II: Mapping change

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4 Responses to “Coming into his own”

  1. Jason says:

    I can’t help feeling that KJ has a way around his words. All the questions aimed at him, he has the ability to answer in a way that sounds “politically correct”, yet not corny (well, some of his answers are though).

    Pak Lah or no Pak Lah, like him or hate him, I think he’ll be around for a very, very long time. For good or for bad, he’s a born politician, in my opinion. Personally, though? I hate him.

  2. amer says:

    He is a typical politician who speaks different stories to different audiences. He is certainly trying to be more open when he speaks to The Nut Graph, but when he speaks on RTM1 he will sing a totally different tune … typical Umno politician.

  3. kip says:

    Basically he talks ghost language to ghosts, human language to humans, and definitely monkey language to monkeys.

    You just can’t trust them with your life. Especially this one, I wouldn’t let him take care of my pet rock.

  4. Joe says:

    I saw a movie …Lions for Lambs or something, Tom Cruise was playing a senator.

    In the movie, they say the clearest way to tell the whole world that you do want to be president of the USA is to state, ‘”I am NOT running for President”.

    Me thinks KJ saw it, too…


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