The Truth About Khairy Jamaluddin – 7
The Truth About Khairy Jamaluddin continues here:
Part 7 – The beginning of a beautiful friendship
Hundreds of people thronged the double-storey suburban bungalow in Jalan Setiamurni. Word of Anwar Ibrahim’s unanticipated release from jail had spread far and wide, shocking the nation to the very core. As well as the hundreds of foreign pundits unsure of what to make of this sudden development, many of Anwar’s supporters had gathered in triumph to rejoice the return of the man who for six years had been kept hidden from public view by the government of Mahathir Mohamad and, for a short while, by the administration of Abdullah Ahmad Badawi. There was no denying that the crowd was in a jubilant mood, savouring their victory and yet, almost to a man, unsure of what was to happen next.
Suddenly, a black Mercedes appeared at the crossroads, stopping a few metres away from Anwar’s house. Out stepped a man whom the crowd immediately recognised as an Umno member of minor prominence. The crowd immediately turned hostile, mocking and jeering the man with the vehemence reserved for a common criminal. Some spitted on the ground. Others threw empty mineral water bottles, one hitting the man on the shoulder. A few shouted, cautioning the man not to take another step forward for the sake of his own safety. He was told in no uncertain terms that he was not welcome at the house. When the man protested that he merely wanted to bestow good wishes to Anwar Ibrahim, the heckling became so loud it alarmed the people inside the house. One, who was beginning to go berserk, even rolled up his sleeves, intending to bash the man in his face if he took one step further.
While all of this brouhaha was going on and that Umno man, Ruslan Kassim, was suffering verbal abuse at the hands of the Reformasi supporters, another car quietly pulled up almost unnoticed at the end of the road and the occupant stepped out into the welcoming arms of Anwar’s former political secretary, Ezam Mohd Nor. Khairy Jamaluddin was swiftly sneaked in through the back of Anwar Ibrahim’s house via the kitchen door, straight up to the second floor bedroom to meet the man so recently reviled by Umno and its leaders as a traitor.
In the bedroom, the two men who would be Prime Ministers eyeballed each other at first warily, then warmly. Anwar extended his hand which was taken by Khairy and they swiftly got down to business. It was later publicly announced to the nation that Khairy was there only to extend the warm wishes of his father-in-law, Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, and also to personally assure Anwar that all efforts to provide him an international passport for his medical trip to Munich would be done with utmost haste. Anwar remarked later that he had jibed Khairy about his sudden climb in Umno Youth and warned the younger man that it was a difficult task indeed which might end up in Khairy having to shed much tears. Both Anwar and Khairy later stated publicly that ‘nothing happened’ between the two of them and that no ‘serious discussion’ took place.
But the nation found that explanation strangely irreconcilable. One or both of the men must have been lying. After all, Anwar was until very recently persona non grata in Umno circles. Even his name could be mentioned only in tones of disgust. Whereas Khairy was the young up-and-coming leader anointed by his father-in-law as his closest advisor and most trusted confidante. Surely there must have been more to it than meets the eye.
Indeed there was.
Both Anwar and Khairy would eventually deny that there was any deal struck between Abdullah Badawi and Anwar Ibrahim for the former to withhold any process should the judiciary decide to finally do the right thing and release the latter from his six-year incarceration. The deal was actually hammered out many months before the last General Election and definitely after Abdullah had officially assumed office as the nation’s fifth Prime Minister. Yet, few, including the upper echelons of both ruling and opposition parties, understood that the end game was being played out in its final moves.
The meeting that took place in Jalan Setiamurni was the sealing of a pact. Abdullah was of the opinion that the Anwar issue was left over baggage from the Mahathir days which he definitely had to unravel. Anwar was reaching the most critical period of his incarceration where he could no longer endure the excruciating pain afflicting his back and which was turning him into a semi-invalid. Khairy was the instrument that made it clear to Anwar that Abdullah gave his implicit approval to the deal, without himself appearing in public to endorse it and thereby provoking the ire of his predecessor, Dr Mahathir.
Once safely in Munich, Anwar told several close allies that included former Berita Harian Editor Nazri Abdullah, former MRCB Managing Director Khalid Ahmad and former Guthrie CEO Khalid Ibrahim that Khairy had come to his house to deliver a letter from Abdullah. Khairy himself later told Norza Zakaria, a fellow member of the Umno Youth Council, that such a letter had been delivered into Anwar’s hands. More importantly, the letter was said by both parties to contain explicit instructions as to how the next few months would be played out.
Immediately after the meeting with Anwar, Khairy became the target of several ministers closely allied to former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad. Spearheaded by Samy Vellu, ministers such as Rafidah Aziz, Azmi Khalid and Aziz Shamsuddin openly questioned Abdullah about his motives in sending Khairy to see Anwar. When Abdullah explained that it was merely to facilitate his immigration needs, Samy Vellu laughed it off and told Abdullah in no uncertain terms, “Next time I need a passport you can send your son-in-law to see me.”
Rafidah Aziz accused Khairy of embarrassing the Prime Minister, using the old Malay tactic of hitting the target indirectly. Aziz Shamsuddin, accused by Anwar Ibrahim as a conspirator responsible for his sudden downfall, angrily remarked that Anwar could have been met by a junior official of the immigration department instead of the son-in-law of the Prime Minister himself. Azmi Khalid felt that, if at all, Anwar should have gone to meet Khairy and not the other way around. Almost to a man the cabinet felt that Khairy was reckless and his move idiotic. Secretly, they all knew that Abdullah had agreed to it, but since Abdullah himself did not acknowledge that the move was under his specific instructions, the ministers took the line of attacking Khairy as a stupid young man, wet behind the ears and untutored in the art of fine politics.
The disbelief of the ministers was compounded by the seething silence of Najib who knew that an Anwar unleashed is an Anwar unbound, and an Anwar unbound is a Najib insecure. His hold on power and his chances of becoming the future Prime Minister not only depended on the longevity of Abdullah Badawi’s rule, but was now further complicated by the presence of Anwar who was adding a new dimension to the established political scheme set by Mahathir in his legacy.
Ministers allied to Mahathir were bitterly unhappy about Khairy’s visit. They felt something was afoot. They openly consulted Mahathir and reported to him the goings-on in the few cabinet meetings held after the release. Mahathir’s office in the Petronas Twin Towers suddenly became the site of a ‘shadow’ cabinet meeting, an extension of the regular cabinet meeting in Putrajaya. Ministers began to congregate at Mahathir’s office on Thursdays to voice out their displeasure at the threats posed by Anwar’s release and Khairy’s backroom deals with the once heir-apparent.
One visit was particularly damaging to Khairy. A certain Malay minister (whose name is not mentioned above) was so incensed by Khairy’s visit to Anwar that he initiated a list of all Umno Youth leaders in the various divisions, segmented into two columns labelled ‘pro-Khairy’ and ‘anti-Khairy’. He showed the list to Dr Mahathir and encouraged the former Prime Minister to allow one of his sons to be put forward as a challenger to Khairy. The minister remarked that this was the time to do it as Khairy had yet to gather strength in the divisions and was still seen by most ordinary members as an elite outsider. The minister further reinforced the suggestion by saying that a challenge to Khairy would either result in a victory that removes him from the future leadership of Umno or a loss, but one that will finally shatter the myth of Khairy’s invincibility. Dr Mahathir demurred, no commitment was made, but plans are being laid for Khairy to be the target of a concerted attack.
It was then that Mahathir began to realise that the young man he so dismissively discounted had now become the key instrument of a threat against his legacy. Mahathir remarked to his secretary, Datuk Badriah, that Abdullah was digging his own grave by letting Anwar go. Mahathir remarked that he himself found Anwar difficult to handle and he had no confidence that Abdullah could do any better. In Mahathir’s eyes, Abdullah was an inept fool who miscalculated by releasing Anwar.
What Mahathir did not know was that Abdullah did not really fully comprehend the ramifications of Anwar’s release. In fact, it was Khairy who reckoned that Anwar’s release would be beneficial to his own political career. Firstly, Khairy felt that Anwar would always be a useful tool against other Umno politicians who might threaten Abdullah’s throne; people such as Tengku Razaleigh and Najib. Secondly, Khairy felt releasing Anwar and meeting him openly would increase his popularity (and Abdullah’s).
In the first instance, Khairy proved to be right. In fact, Anwar became the best advertisement for Abdullah’s government and which helped enhance his reputation for fair play. In the second instance, Khairy severely miscalculated the first damaging attack on his career.
Khairy’s decision to meet Anwar was met with a severe backlash. In Khairy’s mind, Umno leaders would be glad to finally resolve the Anwar albatross. Instead, they felt that Khairy and Abdullah had threatened Umno’s position by releasing its most feared critic. Khairy’s former strong supporters such as Hishamuddin Hussein began to doubt the sincerity of this brash young man. For the first time, Hishamuddin tried to reach out to his bitter rival in family and in politics, Najib Tun Razak. The cousins became closer as a result of Khairy’s doings and they started to strengthen their collective resolve to ensure that Khairy would no longer take them for a ride.
Indeed, some Umno Youth leaders allied to Mahathir’s son and former Umno Youth Treasurer Mokhzani began to orchestrate attacks on Khairy, ranging from the release of poison-pen letters to SMSes accusing him of accommodating Anwar and of threatening the established succession of Najib. Meetings were held by core groups of Umno Youth members allied to the Mukhriz camp, notably in the Gopeng division, led by Aziz Shamsuddin. Meetings were also held under the umbrella of the Ex-MARA Students Association (ANSARA) led by Mukhriz.
Khairy was roundly booed by elements organised by Mokhzani and Mukhriz Mahathir and for a time the situation was worrying enough for Abdullah to send his wife to personally attend Umno Youth sessions so as to embarrass the jeerers into toning down their attacks.
For the first time in his political career, Khairy felt the brunt of open displeasure. Always sheltered by Abdullah, Khairy was not used to being at the receiving end of brickbats. He immediately changed tack and, while only a few weeks before he had praised Anwar’s release as the realisation of a free and fair democracy, he now roundly criticised Anwar as a traitor to Umno’s cause and further stated that the doors to Umno are forever closed to him. He even went so far as to say that Anwar was finished, perhaps forgetting that however much he tried to convince the Umno delegates, few believed him as he had already done the unthinkable by visiting Anwar’s house and paying his respects to the former Deputy Prime Minister. As a party of interests, Umno was not willing to suddenly throw open its doors to a man who had for six whole years roundly denounced Umno as corrupt and incapable of self-reform. Most importantly, Hishamuddin did not believe him and Mukhriz did not believe him.
Khairy’s about-turn became the laughingstock of the Umno delegates. In the words of former Umno Deputy Youth Chief Nazri Aziz, “Those who sought to change Umno instead often find that it is Umno which changes them.” Khairy felt the wrath of an Umno whose anger had been roused and it dawned upon him that the party would only give him support if he toed the line — and that it may even go so far as to punish him for acting independently and out of Umno’s character.
Khairy had become a prisoner of Umno’s whims.
Anwar’s release could not have been achieved by the mere fiat of the judiciary. It was clear that the cowed Malaysian judiciary was a mere tool of the powers-that-be, and it was the tacit admission by Abdullah that he would not interfere in the due process of the law which allowed justice to finally prevail. But it is tainted justice that only presumes to act fairly when it is told to do so in no uncertain terms. And there is no doubt that Khairy played a very important role in influencing the court’s decision.
In a sense, Khairy lost some significant support from Umno circles. But it was a small price to pay for gaining the reputation as the person who finally managed to pull off the unthinkable, that is the release of Anwar Ibrahim from jail. Of course, the public at large, not being members of Umno, would identify Khairy as the sensible leader of that party who could be relied upon to ‘do the right thing’.
In Munich, Anwar’s officers kept in constant touch with Khairy. Khairy received almost daily updates of the goings-on at the Alpha Klinik, including the number of Umno Division Heads who visited Anwar in hospital. Anwar’s secretaries proudly showed visitors Khairy’s SMSes, thereby proclaiming that Khairy’s sympathies lay with their cause. The clear implication of these happenings was that, firstly, there was a deal between Anwar and Abdullah which was heavily influenced by input by Khairy. Secondly, that Anwar was an equation in a political plan concocted by Khairy to secure Abdullah’s rule, plus for his own ascendancy to the highest office in the land. Thirdly, Anwar would not be an irrelevance in the great political scheme that is Malaysian politics, at least under the rule of Abdullah Ahmad Badawi.
The big question is, what are the steps being planned?
The Truth About Khairy Jamaluddin continues…in Part 8 – Sunset, sunrise