The Truth About Khairy Jamaluddin – 4
The Truth About Khairy Jamaluddin continues here:
Part 4 – Strangling your own brothers
It was one thing for Khairy Jamaluddin to dispatch his challengers who openly stood in his way, but what was he to do with those young politicians who have Abdullah Ahmad Badawi’s confidence? Before Khairy came along, Abdullah did have some other young protégés who he had groomed. These were the dark horses who might challenge Khairy for the throne in a few years time. One who has already declared this intent in private gatherings is UMNO Perlis Deputy Liaison Chief, Datuk Zahidi Zainol Abidin, 41.
Back when Hishamuddin Hussein contested the UMNO Youth Vice-Chief post, Zahidi was one of the few who dared challenge him — even though Hishamuddin was the son of a former Prime Minister and Zahidi was a ‘nobody’. The former Air Force pilot with a UiTM mature student degree stood against Hishamuddin knowing full well he would lose, given Hishamuddin’s popularity and backing from Dr Mahathir. Yet he still went head on against Hishamuddin. Why?
Zahidi is one of those strange people in UMNO. One cannot call him a man of principles, yet he did have over-riding beliefs. He has an unshakeable confidence in his own abilities and he has always been proud of calling himself the underdog candidate. Zahidi does not think that UMNO should always be led by the scions of established political families such as Hishamuddin Hussein. He believes in going against this bangsawan mentality.
So Zahidi took up the cudgels against Hishamuddin. Though he lost heavily, he could always rely on a fallback ‘tilam’ as he had been a loyalist of Abdullah Badawi since his Team B days. Abdullah counted on Zahidi’s support throughout his wilderness years and even considered Zahidi an anak angkat. When Khairy appeared on Abdullah’s radars screen, Zahidi was annoyed. He felt that Abdullah was being led up the garden path by this young Oxford graduate with a smooth tongue. Zahidi wanted Abdullah to be more true to his Malay nationalistic background and not be swayed by Khairy’s new-age politics.
Zahidi tried his best to keep Abdullah on the straight and narrow. But of course he was no match for Khairy and his friends. Try as he might, he could not shake ‘the boy’ off — and neither did Khairy succeed in turning Abdullah completely against Zahidi. Between the two, Abdullah struck an uneasy balance. Khairy stayed Abdullah’s closest and most influential advisor, but Abdullah still relied on Zahidi to give him an alternative view, though most times it did not matter as much as the opinion of his son-in-law. To soothe Zahidi’s wounded heart, Abdullah planned to make him the Perlis Menteri Besar during the last election if Shahidan Kassim failed to dent the PAS onslaught. To Zahidi’s chagrin, Shahidan pulled off a coup by defusing the PAS ‘green wave’ with the help of a few members of the Perlis royal family, thereby guaranteeing his stay in office. Nevertheless, Zahidi got promoted to Senior State EXCO Member.
Since then, he has openly announced his intention to challenge Khairy, ostensibly to teach these bangsawans a lesson. So Khairy planted a mole within Zahidi’s midst, in the form of a young and ambitious leader called Ben. Ben, or Rozabil Abdul Rahman, as his full name goes, is one of Khairy’s strongest supporters. In fact, since 1999, he has been a shareholder of Khairy’s mother’s company based in Penang and Kedah that supplies goods to schools in that area. Ben has ambitions to make it big in national politics, but Khairy told him to first prove himself by ‘fixing’ Zahidi in Perlis.
Ben is not even from Perlis. His father, Abdul Rahman Kader, an ex-trade union leader, is an Anwar loyalist, Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) national chairman, and one-time PKR Chief for Penang. From 1999 to 2004 Pak Rahman was the PKR State Assemblyman in the Permatang Pauh Parliamentary constituency. Pak Rahman hails from Perak while Ben himself is based mostly in Kuala Lumpur. But anything can happen in Khairy’s weird and wonderful world of politics. So Ben suddenly became a Perlis ‘native’ and winged his way there to serve Khairy’s wishes. One of these wishes is to make sure that Zahidi gets politically tarnished.
In the last general election, Ben created a ruse on Khairy’s behalf. He arranged to meet with Zahidi on the pretext of seeking his support to win the post of UMNO Youth Chief in the Kangar Division. He promised Zahidi substantial ‘campaign funds’ to facilitate this task. Zahidi readily agreed, accepting RM300,000 as a first payment.
In fact, Ben was not doing this out of the goodness of his heart but to manufacture evidence that Zahidi was involved in money politics and therefore liable to be hauled before the UMNO Disciplinary Committee. That was what happened next. Zahidi found himself the object of an investigation by Tengku Ahmad Rithaudeen’s committee. Letters accusing him of paying bribes appeared on the Tengku’s desk and an anonymous tape-recording of a telephone conversation in which Zahidi had asked Ben to make prompt payment of the campaign funds to his bank account found its way to the committee’s hands.
Zahidi was duly convicted of the crime of money politics and given a warning. The public was told his offence was of blocking certain people from being elected UMNO delegates by bad-mouthing them. Secretly though, Tengku Ahmad Rithaudeen had warned Zahidi not to ‘rock the UMNO boat’ if he did not want them to announce his other offences, which included payments of up to RM1,000 each to members in the Kangar division. Zahidi was informed during the hearings that he was not to repeat to the press what the committee had said to him.
He was told that he was lucky to get off with a warning because he was one of Abdullah’s blue-eyed boys. But if he dared challenge the ‘status quo’ of the bangsawan leadership again, the committee would find a way to ‘sembelih’ him.
Of course, no one expects Zahidi to take this lying down. But he has no doubt been made aware that challenging Khairy would not be a ‘clean’ and friendly battle like the Hishamuddin Hussein challenge some years back.
There is another fellow like Zahidi, also a long time Abdullah loyalist and not a bangsawan. Reezal Merican Naina Merican is an Indian Muslim from Penang who had managed to bring himself to the attention of Abdullah Badawi three years before Khairy ever showed his face in the Jalan Bellamy house.
Reezal Merican (often called ‘Ustaz Reezal’) is an IIUM graduate with a penchant for high politics and beautiful women artistes. He was aghast when the years of relationship he had built with Abdullah prior to his being appointed Deputy Prime Minister was suddenly interrupted by the appearance of Khairy. When Abdullah ascended that high office, Reezal Merican thought that his time had come. His years of being the ‘lightning rod’ in IIUM — attracting the ire of his fellow students who were mostly supporters of Anwar Ibrahim — would finally pay off when Abdullah recognises his loyalty and perseverance in defending his image. Reezal had hoped that Abdullah would reward him with a suitably high post in government.
But when the call finally came and the appointment letter landed on his desk, Reezal found himself in the much less exalted office of Shahrizat Abdul Jalil, in charge of issues such as making sure that people hugged each other in the name of national unity. Khairy had blocked his way up by writing a memorandum to Abdullah Badawi containing the list of people who deserved to be promoted to the office of advisors to the new Deputy Prime Minister and Reezal Merican’s name was not one of them.
Reezal persevered. He tried to make himself out to be a more important part of Abdullah’s future government by showing that he had good ties with the student community in local universities. He promptly got himself elected head of the IIUM alumni and therefore a nominal head of quite a substantial group of the local student support base. Perhaps it was in view of this that Abdullah finally relented and, in November 2003, Reezal was made Political Secretary to the First Finance Minister. It was not as important as being Political Secretary to the Prime Minister himself, but as the two posts were conjoined in the same person, Reezal did not complain too much.
Khairy did not take this lying down though. He shot off another official memo to Abdullah, informing him that the IIUM graduate did not deserve the post as he added no value to the effort to show Abdullah’s administration as being a professional team of bright young things. Khairy also accused Reezal of involvement with several young recording artists and newsreaders. The letter found itself on Abdullah’s desk, but not before chief private secretary Dato’ Thajudeen Abdul Wahab (no friend of Khairy’s) had made a copy and given it to Reezal. Seething with anger, Reezal swore to eliminate Khairy from the Abdullah circle.
That promise was made in the white heat of anger. Eventually, Reezal realised that it was better to be seen to support Khairy, at least for the time being. He took a step back and allowed Khairy to go for the UMNO Youth Vice-Chief post while he himself contested as an ordinary EXCO member, though he had a longer relationship with the UMNO Youth delegates. In the meantime, he gathered his forces. While Khairy is largely supported by foreign graduates, non-Malays and the liberal Malay faction in UMNO, Reezal Merican is more popular with the under-30s from local universities.
A head-on clash was about to happen if not for one stroke of Khairy’s genius.
What could Khairy do to counter Ustaz Reezal’s influence? Khairy looked at it from a hierarchical point of view. If Khairy, as an Oxford graduate, was the highest chimp in the tree, Reezal, as an IIUM graduate, was the lower monkey. So, to topple the guy, Khairy needed an even lower ranking primate –- more aggressive, perhaps, but definitely a follower rather than a leader. This he found in the form of Datuk Abdul Azeez Rahim.
Abdul Azeez shared many of Reezal Merican’s attributes. A fellow mamak like Reezal, he had a weakness for beautiful women and both had married twice. More importantly, Abdul Azeez was a self-made businessman of a rather thuggish outlook and could counter Reezal’s influence among the locally educated UMNO Youth politicians. Khairy pushed through a new wing called Putera UMNO under Abdul Azeez’s stewardship that spread its tentacles to local universities and institutions of higher learning. Khairy understood that he himself lacked support from this political base and badly needed it. Abdul Azeez was tasked in getting this support while at the same time weakening Reezal’s influence.
So Reezal became a neutered tomcat, surrounded by the well-oiled and well-financed Putera UMNO. If at any time in the future Reezal tries to shake Khairy’s throne, the trap would be set for him and he would find himself on the receiving end of Putera UMNO’s whack. Khairy no longer needs to fear that he would be seen as an arty-farty Oxford graduate without support from the lower middle classes. Abdul Azeez would now take care of that for him.
The juggernaut rolls on. But Khairy cannot afford to confine himself only to dealing with potential threats from UMNO Youth. There was a bigger and more immediate threat to his plans to become PM of Malaysia by the age of 40. The most important fish for Khairy to fry is one called Najib…
The Truth About Khairy Jamaluddin continues…in Part 5 – The heir and the pretender