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.
Ahmad Ismail (Courtesy of Oriental Daily)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.
Tunku Abdul Rahman (top), Tun Abdul
Razak (bottom left) and Tun Dr Ismail
(Public domain; source: Wikipedia) 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.
(© Matt Williams / sxc.hu)
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.