Is KJ positioning himself to one day be Prime Minister?
Khairy Jamaluddin has come a long way from the days when he was known as the head of the Fourth Floor Boys.
These days, he sounds like the sole voice of reason amid increasingly shrill rhetoric from both the right and left wings of this country. Just this week alone, he took Perkasa President Ibrahim Ali to task over his controversial comments, and then turned against Anwar Ibrahim’s camp, thus walking that middle ground where most Malaysians reside as we go about our daily business.
This is far from the first time Khairy has rushed against the voices of the extreme. Earlier this year he told the notorious Zulkifli Noordin to “just shut up” when the latter decided to poke fun at the death of Karpal Singh. Since 2009, he has slowly but surely steered Umno Youth towards a more moderate platform and has built up a good rapport with the youths of Malaysia by creating initiatives and opportunities. He even opened Menara Belia dan Sukan for youths to organize a metal music festival earlier this year.
He is now organizing an open debate between Umno Youth Exco member Fathul Bari and a young man who tried to bring a little brightness to our lives with his “I Want To Touch A Dog” programme, Syed Azmi Alhabshi. The topic of the debate is “Prevalent Sensitivities vs Openness: Where is the Middle Point?”
It is this kind of discourse that is absolutely necessary in the high-temperature environment of Malaysian politics today. Instead of death threats, Syed Azmi deserves to be engaged in a civil manner that speaks well of us as a people. No religious teaching would call for a death threat on a man attempting to challenge the cultural stereotypes against an innocent animal. That Khairy has provided a neutral corner for him to discuss his points of view in a civilized manner is truly the sign of someone who wants to understand and not condemn for the sake of condemning.
Najib Tun Razak may shout “wasatiyyah” from the rooftops for the world to hear, but Khairy is the man walking that talk even as our Prime Minister jets off to parts unknown every other week.
Political reinvention is a difficult thing, especially here in a polarized Malaysia. The most vocal and ardent support base is inherently the extremist one. The majority prefer to be left well alone as long as the country functions as promised, and they are rarely given voice by NGOs or politicians. But the path of the moderates is the largest path, giving leeway to cater to both sides of the fence, though occasionally aggravating both.
Many who read this will be tempted to scepticism, citing Khairy’s “keris-waving days”, as Nik Nazmi so elegantly puts it, as reason to believe that KJ’s push to the middle ground is nothing more than a political facade designed to capture the attention of the moderates looking for a champion. And that may be true, but the only one who knows is the man himself. Still, Khairy’s move to the middle ground is unheard of for Umno Youth, and in itself is a bold and radical decision, a departure from the rhetoric and red-meat politics that the youth wing has been known for. It is a fact that even within his own party, KJ comes under criticism for not doing things the old way.
Bold new path
Khairy understands from the 2008 political tsunami that the old politics of Malaysia has forever changed, irreversibly. If his move to the middle ground is nothing more than cognizance of political reality, it is the only move he can make to continue being relevant, and by extension, keep Umno relevant. It is indeed the best move to make. He has begun to set the national conversation on a bold new path, and one that Umno has never trodden before, and it’s time we started paying attention and hoping that his influence will be enough to change the fundamentalistic and nationalistic mindset of Malaysia’s own “grand old party”, to quote Khairy himself.
That challenge of accomplishing such a reality, of fighting the perception that Umno Youth has abandoned its struggle, is one that he knows all too well, as he imparted to the youth leaders gathered at his Akademi Kapten Hussein and at the MCA Youth AGM. But as he revealed, the struggle has not been abandoned, but merely taking place in an arena more suited for our more cynical times. Khairy had pushed Umno Youth to focus less on rhetoric and bombastic actions to actually pay attention to the needs of the people.
He spoke no truer words at Akademi Kapten Hussein than when he said the younger generation does not care so much about parties and their political circuses as much as how those parties are going to tackles the issues that concern the youth—issues that run the gamut from human rights, to housing, to the ability to express creatively.
What else should be the function of a political party and its branches if not to serve the needs of the communities they represent? That Khairy grasps the importance of the middle ground and the evolution of politics among the youth of today is something that cannot be said of many people on either side of the political divide, and may be what sets him apart and above the dross.
All this seems to point to Khairy positioning himself as a future candidate for Prime Minister. He has all the qualifications, and a centrist, moderate approach that has a broad appeal to a wide section of Malaysians. But first, he must get past his biggest challenge yet. And that comes in the form of the grand old man of Malaysian politics, Mahathir Mohamad.
It’s no secret that Mahathir has long disdained Khairy. And while we may not have proof that Mahathir has softened his stance on Khairy, known Mahathir supporter Abdul Kadir Jasin has expressed a belief that Khairy is deputy prime minister material. This nugget of news would usually be dismissed as the personal ruminations of a veteran pressman, but Kadir’s opinions are usually held as reflecting those of Mahathir himself.
Time will tell if Khairy Jamaluddin could one day gain the trust of Malaysia’s penultimate power broker. But he is beginning to make headway among the youth and the moderates, who are slowly beginning to see him in a good light. As long as he balances his progressive image well with the demands made of him by his party base, he could one day claim the throne.
* A fair writeup on KJ from FMT, I personally hope KJ will make it to the top as he is ‘different’ from the other ‘veteran boys’. I have high regards for this ‘budak Rembau’. All the best sir!-mydestiny2011