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Umno Youth a year later

Khairy, after he was elected Umno Youth chief during party elections in March 2009
(Pic courtesy of theSun)

KHAIRY Jamaluddin wasn’t the clear favourite when he was elected Umno Youth chief. A jeering crowd accused him of bribery after he trounced two other contenders in the party elections in March 2009.

But Khairy has emerged bolder and more centrist than his rivals, at least more than the public could have expected Datuk Mukhriz Mahathir and Datuk Seri Dr Mohamad Khir Toyo to be. In trying to straddle the middle ground, will Khairy lose Umno Youth? Or is his vision for the movement overshadowed by baggage from the past?

In part two of this e-mail interview on 7 Jan 2010, Khairy answers some of the criticisms against his leadership of Umno Youth.

TNG: Where is Pemuda today, almost a year after you were elected? Some members say there hasn’t been much going on in terms of programmes and activities.

Khairy Jamaluddin: Pemuda remains active in its public pronouncements and activities, be it at national, state or divisional levels. I consistently make public remarks, and I have actively encouraged my deputy and the rest of my exco to speak out and do their bit in representing Pemuda.

In my maiden address as Pemuda leader, I set a number of KPIs (key performance indices) for the movement — among them, to increase party membership and ensure that our members register as voters. These will need some time.

Umno Youth has achieved some significant things in 2009 which set the tone under my leadership. Last year, we started a dialogue with Chinese [Malaysian] non-governmental organisations (NGOs), to which MCA Youth reciprocated by having a session with Malay [Malaysian] NGOs, and we opened a community complaints bureau centre to serve Malaysians in need. To me, events and initiatives which have a lasting positive impact on the community and country are far more gratifying than merely persisting with traditional programmes which may rein in the [Umno crowd] but yield less returns, especially in the current political context.

There have [also] been six by-elections which the Barisan Nasional (BN) contested in since my taking over as leader. So for significant parts of 2009, Umno Youth, and BN Youth for that matter, had been busy with campaign activities. But of course, these — like much of what I do these days — appear invisible to the mainstream media.

Pemuda has traditionally played the role of agitator. Do you envision a different role for Pemuda under your leadership?

I am not sure “agitator” does justice to the Malay word “pendesak”, which I presume you were trying to translate from. In any case, I prefer Pemuda to become a “solution provider”. Sometimes merely pressuring the government to do this or not do that can make you popular in the short term, but sooner or later people will ask, “What’s your alternative?” Pemuda in the 21st century must rise above petty populism to become a movement that looks at an issue from all angles, and offers suggestions and solutions which it feels are best for the people.

How are you closing ranks after the three-way fight in the Youth chief election? Is that progressing well?

In a word, yes. There are [still] bound to be some wounds that take time to fully heal. But ultimately, everyone involved knows that we all belong to the same party, and that disunity will not work in anyone’s favour. Most important is for all of us to make Umno more relevant to younger Malaysians and deliver the numbers come the 13th general election. The only way we are going to achieve this is by working together.

The Pemuda retreat in Janda Baik was said to be poorly attended. Why was that, and what does that tell you?

The ones who could not attend the retreat had various reasons. Commitment to other functions — some related to party work, and others to family — were chief among the reasons for their absence.

I don’t wish to dwell on this matter, but it is perhaps telling of how Pemuda is held to a different standard of expectations, that journalists and writers so quickly speculate about Pemuda’s state of affairs when the other two wings in Umno, which also held their retreats, faced similar problems.

It is not easy to get grown men [or women] to leave the comforts of home, family and other responsibilities and be grilled by army-trained facilitators for days. Nevertheless, it is a problem that we need to look at. A problem of commitment.

What challenges do you face as Pemuda chief nearly a year on?

(Looknarm / Wiki commons)
Numerous. But I would say that my largest challenge is to convince the members of the shift in worldview which I outlined in my speech. I strongly believe that once this is achieved, half the battle to make Pemuda Umno relevant to contemporary requirements is won.

Do you feel that members still evaluate you as Pak Lah (former Prime Minister Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi)’s son-in-law, with all the baggage that carries? Or do they view you as a leader in your own right?

You’ll have to ask them. But my feeling is that most people — Youth members or otherwise — have moved on. Pak Lah is no longer Umno president and prime minister of Malaysia, so all the controversies that came along with it have dissipated. I have never been one to rely on anybody’s voice to form my own opinions; I see no reason for people to not see me as a leader with my own views, visions and styles.

Ultimately you were elected as Pemuda chief, but would you say that in the end you are a minority leader since your votes were less than half the total delegates?

It is customary to not win majority support in a three-way fight where all candidates have their own substantial following. Any one of us could have won with more votes or less than 304. The fact is that the victor becomes the leader of all 700,000-odd Umno Youth members. When [Datuk Seri] Najib [Razak] speaks as the prime minister of Malaysia, he does not only represent people who voted for the BN or the people of Pekan, does he? It is no different in my case.

Do you feel sidelined in Umno, in any way excluded from party decision-making?

No, I don’t feel sidelined at all. I participate in the party’s highest decision-making bodies — the supreme council, the political bureau and the management committee — and have never been prevented from expressing my views. I have regular meetings with the party president and deputy president to report on work that’s being done and to get advice.

A division chief says that in the almost one year you’ve been elected, you’ve only made one round nationwide to all the divisions, and that’s not enough. That without a cabinet post, you should have more freedom to touch base with the grassroots more. That your personal presence among the grassroots is important, but that this is a bit lacking. Your response?

Perhaps his perception is shaped by the lack of mainstream media coverage that I have been receiving. On the contrary, I have been busy attending functions and programmes every week all over the country. I have never stopped working, and I feel most comfortable being on the ground with my members.

I didn’t win because I [was] the son-in-law of an outgoing PM, I won this post because of long-standing relationships with divisional and state Pemuda leaders. I built these relationships by going down to the ground, and I haven’t stopped doing so.

See also: Khairy Jamaluddin’s new image?

Read previous Realpolitiker interviews

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6 Responses to “Umno Youth a year later”

  1. FamousEyes says:

    Good responses to some very tough questions by TNG. Kudos to both!

  2. fReUd says:

    It’s high time Umno Youth, PKR Youth, and every political youth organisation, stop this “pendesak” nonsense. We’re not a socialist state where government should be held ransom to populist pressure groups who, like Khairy said, just want to be popular without providing solutions.

    And I must say under Khairy, Umno Youth looks the most active in providing suggestions/solutions to impasses. Whether its the Allah issue, the church bombings, or less ‘sexy’ issues like petrol and sugar subsidies.

    Whether or not these suggestions are eventually taken up is another matter – but at least give the government a viable alternative. Don’t politicise all matters. People get bored. Only hardcore BN/PR supporters enjoy those. And goodness knows they’re not the middle ground Khairy talks about.

  3. seriati says:

    Dear KJ,
    Until very recently, many of us really despised you. For things you said, and things you did. Now you seem to have outgrown the narrow-mindedness and rhetoric of Umno exterism. Please keep up with the changes, and continue with your effort to lead and represent Malaysian youth, not only Malay [Malaysian] youth. Show everybody there is still hope for the future. Hopefully, you are one of few who flew over the cuckoo’s nest.

  4. Pratamad says:

    I can only say that Pemuda is very fortunate to have KJ as its leader at this crucial juncture of history. He is certainly treading very carefully in the tough waters of Umno politics, […]. If KJ succeeds in his venture, it spells doom for Pakatan Rakyat.

    But it is too early to call and the signs are poor if KJ will be swallowed by those sharks. I sincerely hope he won’t, for the sake of my beloved Malaysia.

  5. john says:

    It is good that The Nut Graph covers Khairy. At least he answers the questions and is making effort to change his image (including Youth Umno’s) from the usually racist image which Umno Youth portrays. He is still young and that’s youth. Youth should be less than 40 yrs old.

    It would be interesting to see what role is Khairy playing in leading BN Youth. MCA youth is having a leadership crisis. MIC Youth is facing big hurdles in capturing the confidence of the Indian [Malaysians]. Gerakan Youth….who is its youth head? Maybe The Nut Graph can get all BN component youth to express what is their effort in serving the people.

  6. SM says:

    Looks like not being the son-in-law of the PM has done some good for KJ. Many Malaysians really hated him for what he stood for and what he said in the past.
    However, he has been very “careful” in his speeches and his behaviour in the last year.

    One thing stands out though from this interview: he “hints” that the mainstream media is not giving him enough “coverage”. But he also says he is not sidelined! I’m sure he knew what to expect when Mukhriz was given a cabinet post and he got nothing.

    All I can say is that KJ may be a around a lot longer than expected than some of those who currently think that they are our “Tuans”.

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