KUALA LUMPUR, 28 March 2009: Perhaps it is fair to say that the foremost challenge facing Umno Youth after its elections, is changing the negative perception about the movement from within and outside the party.
This definitely includes the negative perception of its leader Khairy Jamaluddin, who was constantly booed by the delegates each time his name was mentioned at the party’s general assembly which ended, here, today.
This kind of reception was also given to Khairy, who is Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi’s son-in-law, when he won the Umno Youth deputy head post uncontested in the party elections five years ago.
“People think that he won because of money politics. This perception is difficult to avoid,” political observer Assoc Prof Dr Ahmad Nidzammuddin Sulaiman told Bernama today.
Many political observers also see this negative perception posing as a bigger challenge for Umno and Barisan Nasional (BN) when they face the opposition in three by-elections simultaneously — Bukit Gantang in Perak, Bukit Selambau in Kedah and Batang Ai in Sarawak — on 7 April.
Before the party elections, Khairy who is also the member of parliament for Rembau, was issued a warning by the Umno disciplinary board by breaching the party’s code of ethics involving money politics.
Nidzammuddin said what was important now was for Khairy to overcome the negative perception about him.
“If the perception is that he is unapproachable and arrogant, Khairy has to change his ways in dealing with people. He has to prove that he is the opposite of what people think of him,” he said.
Khairy had also often been accused of “calling the shots” behind the administration of Abdullah which Khairy denied.
Another political observer, Assoc Prof Dr Muhammad Agus Yusoff, however, said the Umno Youth chief should be given the chance to defend himself and lead the movement as he was democratically chosen by the delegates.
“Those who reject Khairy are rejecting the democratic process in Umno Youth.
“The perception of whether he was involved in money politics or not is a secondary issue. He should be given the chance to prove himself,” said Muhammad Agus who did not dismiss the possibility of the opposition using the Khairy issue to score points in the three by-election campaigns.
In the movement’s elections on 25 March, Khairy defeated Jerlun member of parliament Datuk Mukhriz Mahathir, 44, who had received the most nominations, and former Selangor Menteri Besar Datuk Seri Dr Mohamad Khir Toyo, 43, to lead the movement.
He obtained 304 votes against Dr Mohamad Khir’s 254 and Mukhriz’s 232.
“Khairy is under tremendous pressure. If he can overcome the negative perception and reunite the movement’s members, eventually he will win respect,” said a Khairy supporter who declined to be identified.
After chairing the Umno Youth executive committee (exco) meeting for the first time yesterday, Khairy was bombarded with questions from the media on the negative perception about him and how he would deal with them in the run-up to the three upcoming by-elections.
“My first priority is to ensure that among the elected exco members, there is a commonality of purpose, solidarity, team spirit and commitment to the movement’s agenda.
“Most importantly, I have good support from (Datuk) Razali (Ibrahim), my deputy. As far as I’m concerned, after the results, there will be some dissatisfaction. But we have decided to put this aside and continue with our agenda,” he said.
Political analysts feel that Khairy needs to really work hard to change the negative perception about him because traditionally, the head of Umno Youth will be appointed as BN Youth chief.
If he doesn’t change, Khairy will be just a ‘village champion’, they say. — Bernama