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