The Truth About Khairy Jamaluddin – 5
The Truth About Khairy Jamaluddin continues here:
Part 5 – The heir and the pretender
Some time ago, a young UMNO politician began his meteoric rise to power. He was, to be very honest, young and inexperienced. But he had the distinction of coming from a powerful political family and it was on the back of this that he managed to secure positions in UMNO Youth at a very tender age.
Eventually, he rose to the highest rank of that wing. He became a minister and was always spoken of as a ‘sure bet’ for the exalted post of Prime Minister. With little political experience prior to joining UMNO, he built his reputation by playing off one group against another, even showing off the racial card, pronouncing his strong public support for ‘Malay rights’, ‘Malay dominance’ and ‘Malay supremacy’, in spite of having quite opposite beliefs in the practice of his private life. An almost wholly overseas education had left him tongue-tied in his own native language. And a rather prominent spouse, with (lesser) political ambitions of her own, helped spur his climb to power.
One may be forgiven for thinking that this is a description of Khairy Jamaluddin. In actual fact it is only what Khairy wants to be. It’s Khairy’s ‘wannabe’ dream – drawn on the back of an envelope as his plans for reaching the top political office in the country. But that trail had already been blazed by another man before Khairy – and his name is Najib Tun Razak.
Khairy and Najib share many similarities in their rise to power. Yet there is no love lost between them. Khairy knows that Najib will ‘kill him off’ as soon as Abdullah Ahmad Badawi leaves the political stage. Likewise, Najib is uneasy about Khairy’s influence on Abdullah and is conscious that his chances of becoming Prime Minister would dramatically improve with Khairy out of the way.
The enmity between Khairy and Najib stems from Khairy’s impatient and open ambition to reach the highest office in UMNO before he reaches the age of 40. Najib is the opposite in his outlook. He is patient, almost to the point of being seen as slow and lethargic. But Najib has played a ‘careful’ game whereas Khairy is more ‘in your face’.
Both understand that UMNO is too small a party for the two of them. At only 52, Najib is easily able to block Khairy for twenty-five years or more. If a week is a long time in politics, then twenty-five years would seem like an eternity. Even worse, Khairy thinks Najib will turn back the clock, abolish Abdullah’s (and therefore Khairy’s) reforms and return UMNO to the ‘bad old days’ of Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad.
Najib is the most prominent protégé of former Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad of his generation. His appointment as Deputy Prime Minister was part of a package arranged by Dr Mahathir prior to his abdication and was pre-conditional upon Abdullah prior to him assuming the office of UMNO President. Even after Dr Mahathir had received the tacit but private consent of Abdullah Badawi for Najib to be appointed as Deputy Prime Minister, Mahathir tried to reinforce the future succession plans by putting very broad hints in the media that Najib was the most capable person to become Abdullah’s deputy.
Mahathir went so far as to instruct certain members of the cabinet to push hard and often for Najib to be appointed Deputy Prime Minister as soon as possible. Khalil Yaakob, then Information Minister, pushed Abdullah so often that Khairy became incensed. By the 2004 election, Khalil found himself packed off to his wife’s state of Melaka as governor.
At one point, Dr Mahathir even hinted that the Deputy Prime Minister should be appointed at the same time as Abdullah takes the oath of office as the fifth Prime Minister of Malaysia. Abdullah bit his lips and said nothing. The prize was too close for him to rock the boat now.
Abdullah did, however, try to play ‘chicken’ with Mahathir. He wanted the Deputy Prime Minister to owe him that appointment and not be indebted to his predecessor. So he kept the nation waiting for awhile and gave an indication to people such as Muhyiddin Yassin that they were also potential candidates. Abdullah’s then political secretary, Ramzi Abdul Rahman (now Chairman of KESEDAR), was asked to inform Dr Shaharuddin Mohd Salleh that “Najib is in only as long as Mahathir is in”. On the back of this promise, Shaharuddin went to Muhyiddin telling him that they would soon be moving to new offices in Putrajaya.
But the hints were never serious because Abdullah Badawi knew that if he did not appoint Najib as Deputy Prime Minister, Mahathir would ensure that Abdullah became the shortest ever serving Prime Minister of Malaysia…
Knowing full well that his father-in-law had no choice but to appoint Najib, Khairy tried to place himself in Najib’s good books. First, he tried to convince Najib that, as the most powerful advisor to Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, he would be instrumental in influencing the decision to appoint the new Deputy Prime Minister.
Khairy reassured Najib several times that Abdullah was really in favour of Najib, rather than Muhyiddin or any other candidate. He just needed a ‘little push’ – a sign to show that Najib would be absolutely loyal to Abdullah. Khairy even told Najib that he himself had dissuaded Abdullah from considering Muhyiddin because the latter was seen as being too close to Anwar. On the other hand, Najib was a ‘loyal party leader’ who gave his best to anyone who holds the office of UMNO President. Khairy told Najib that he had reassured Abdullah of Najib’s loyalty and competence.
At that point, when Najib was most apprehensive about his political future, Khairy took advantage of Najib’s weakness by putting several of his people in Najib’s office. Khairy knew that many of Najib’s officers were 110% loyal to Najib and served him selflessly. Amongst them was Najib’s key point-man and trusted advisor, Datuk Alies Anor. But Khairy was very wary of Alies Anor. Alies was close to ABIM (his wife is a famous ABIM activist) and therefore close to Anwar Ibrahim. Indeed, many of Najib’s junior officers were drawn from the pro-Anwar camp as Najib had served Anwar as his Vice Youth Chief in the 1990s. As Anwar’s star rose, Najib wanted to please him so he sheltered several Anwar supporters in his office.
Other than Alies Anor, Najib had other advisors who were more cosmopolitan and therefore opposed to Alies’ worldview. Chief amongst them was Abdul Razak Baginda and a shadowy business figure called Rohana who controls Najib’s and his family’s estates overseas — such as their flats in London and houses in Australia’s Melbourne and Gold Coast. Khairy approached these two figures and convinced them that the best person to advice Najib was a certain Omar Ong (see The Truth About Khairy Jamaluddin – 2).
Omar Ong became Khairy’s point-man in Najib’s office. He installed himself in an office a few doors away from Najib’s own and was given a chauffeur-driven car as well as ranking in the civil service just one step below the Deputy Secretary-General of the ministry.
But even that was insufficient. Khairy was worried that Najib might stray from the narrow road set before him by Omar Ong. After all, Omar Ong was hardly the most charismatic of individuals and as a Chinese convert to Islam he could be deemed an ‘outsider’ by Najib supporters.
Khairy then used another close friend called Dr Liew, his partner in his proxy company, Ethos Sdn Bhd, set up to dabble in government contracts. Khairy introduced Ethos to Najib and quickly hired personnel on large monthly retainers to advice Najib on several key Ministry of Defence jobs. Through their joint participation, Najib’s advisors and civil servants found their roles reduced and instead Liew and his officers began to take charge of sensitive decisions made in the Ministry of Defence. Closed tender contracts began to be awarded to companies associated to Omar Ong and Dr Liew.
Najib’s old advisors, in particular Alies Anor, found this situation extremely stifling. They realised they no longer had the undivided attention of Najib. Instead, Najib began to listen more to Khairy’s people who would also furnish Khairy reports on Najib’s daily movements. Further to that, they used their position to block several key Najib allies from seeing the Minister — to such an extent that these people began to angrily distant themselves from Najib.
They disrupted daily briefings made by Alies Anor and the old officers, causing severe rifts in Najib’s office. But Najib himself felt that this was a price worth paying. He knew Alies was absolute loyal to him, even if he was removed from office. Najib wanted the post of Deputy Prime Minister and he was willing to pay any price, even kowtowing to Khairy’s boys if necessary.
Eventually, Abdullah could not hold back the decision any longer and Najib found himself Deputy Prime Minister as Dr Mahathir had planned. Khairy tried to take full credit with Najib, even arranging huge media coverage through Kalimullah Hassan Masheerul Hassan (Group Chief Editor of NST and a Khairy stooge). However, once safely in office, Najib began to wise up. He no longer felt he needed to pay as much attention to Khairy or his boys as he did before. In short, Najib began to fight back and loosen the chains that Khairy and Omar Ong had placed around him.
Najib began to develop parallel young talents in his office, in direct competition to Khairy’s boys. He chose Khairil Annas Yusof, an IIUM and Oxford law graduate with an ABIM background (and therefore diametrically opposed to Khairy’s worldview) as an additional Special Officer. Najib also began to reduce Omar Ong’s role in writing his speeches and relied more and more on Khairil Annas. Khairil Annas also began to train Najib and help him improve his Malay speaking talents, including the use of rhetoric and gestures, something out of sync with Najib’s previous character.
Although Omar Ong is the son-in-law of Fatwa Council chairman Ismail Ibrahim, his talents in the religious department were severely lacking. Khairil Annas made up for these deficiencies and quickly became Najib’s most trusted blue-eyed boy. Khairy’s boys in Ethos also began to find that, since he became Deputy Prime Minister, Najib was listening less and less to them. Dr Liew, who was previously tasked with finding a solution to the Felda problem, found himself muscled out by a new appointee in charge of Felda affairs, a certain Ahmad Maslan, a Johor UMNO stalwart of Anwar Ibrahim and former political secretary to Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, Datuk Mustapa Mohamad.
Khairy instructed Dr Liew to propose that Felda dispose of its shares in several First Board publicly-listed companies, such as Maybank, to parties close to ECM Libra, a boutique investment bank owned by Kalimullah Masheerul Hassan that employed Khairy as its director of Corporate Advisory. Dr Liew thought he could easily push this matter through as it was more or less an ‘instruction’ from Khairy. Instead, Najib used Ahmad Maslan to block the deal while ordering a reassessment of the proposal based on its merits.
Khairy’s most formidable opponent in the old Najib camp, Alies Anor, although now no longer in Najib’s office, began to be seen more and more in Najib’s unofficial inner circle. Instead of meeting at his office in Putrajaya, they often gathered together either in Najib’s private home in Taman Duta or at the Tun Rahah Foundation office in Pekan during Najib’s weekly constituency visits there. Decisions were now being made away from the official Deputy Prime Minister’s office and Khairy began to get less and less detailed reports of Najib’s movements.
Najib also cultivated an alternative to Khairy’s loyalists within UMNO Youth in Pahang. Najib created a group called the Pekan Youth Society that began to be seen as the rival to UMNO Youth there. Najib paid these people permanent salaries and the Pekan Youth Society began to realise that they were more influential in getting Najib’s attention than the official UMNO Youth channel. UMNO Youth in Pekan soon became aware they were no longer trusted by Najib as they were seen as an extension of Khairy’s political arrangements.
With all these goings-on, Khairy found that his meticulous plan to control Najib was beginning to unravel. The final straw was when Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah received the nomination from the Gua Musang UMNO division for the post of UMNO President. But the same division also nominated Najib for UMNO Deputy. In other words, Abdullah received one less nomination than his own deputy. Gua Musang was giving a signal that they liked Najib, but hated Abdullah.
In several private meetings, Tengku Razaleigh said he wanted to contest the presidency to ensure that Najib eventually succeeds Abdullah Badawi as UMNO President and to ensure that Abdullah Badawi or his people would not play Najib for a fool. Tengku Razaleigh went so far as to have meetings with several key Mahathir allies such as Daim Zainuddin and Sanusi Junid to make known his reasons for challenging Abdullah. One week before Tengku Razaleigh announced his ‘stalking horse’ challenge for the presidency, both Daim and Sanusi were seen lunching with him.
Khairy now realised that Najib is a dangerous foe who could not be easily pushed around. It was natural that Najib believed Khairy to be an upstart who did not deserve his position and who lacked the political experience. Though both Khairy and Najib rose in politics at a young age, Najib had previously served in various apprenticeships in UMNO and government including as a Deputy Minister in the federal government and Menteri Besar of Pahang. Khairy, on the other hand, chose another route to power -– one deemed ‘more suspect’ by Najib’s supporters.
So Khairy is currently laying down plans on how to embarrass Najib and ensure that Najib falls, or at the very least to convince Najib that his long-term political survival depends on Khairy’s grace and favour. In Khairy’s mind, there are three weapons he could use. One would be the ultimate weapon of using Abdullah to ‘chop Najib’s head off’. But that would be a far too risky move. While Najib is no Anwar Ibrahim who would fight kicking and screaming against the dying of the light, he would probably mount a challenge if Dr Mahathir announces his tacit support for a ‘change in leadership’. As such, removing Najib like how Dr Mahathir removed Anwar is out of the question.
The second way would be to use his extensive tentacles in the media. And here’s how he plans to do it…
The Truth About Khairy Jamaluddin continues…in Part 6 – Khairy’s media playground