The Truth About Khairy Jamaluddin – 8
The Truth About Khairy Jamaluddin continues here:
Part 8 – Sunset, sunrise
Several weeks ago, one of Anwar Ibrahim’s closest confidante and former Political Secretary, Azmin Ali, gave a rather revealing interview. In that interview he remarked quite casually, as if it was a matter of course, that since his release in September 2004, Anwar Ibrahim had spent quite a bit of time on telephone conversations with Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi. Azmin was coy about the subjects of discussion though, referring to them as “general conversations” about current issues and government policies.
In a sense, Azmin was hinting that Anwar was giving Abdullah advice on how to make his government perform better. Presumptuous though it may sound – considering the lofty nature of the office of the Malaysian Prime Minister – Azmin’s statement nevertheless reveals that while Anwar was persona non grata for six long years, he is now back in the thick of Malaysian politics.
Sceptics may be forgiven for thinking that what Azmin said was mere boast to counter the frustrations of many opposition supporters who feel that Anwar is currently spending too much time overseas. Perhaps Azmin was reflecting on the days when he played a role as the key ‘insider of insiders’ within the Anwar office to shape and mould the daily strategies for the powers-that-be. Yet, such open and casual remarks belie at least a glimmer of the truth.
The fact is, within Anwar’s inner circle, where the walls are more porous than a sponge cake, such juicy titbits are rarely kept confidential. In fact, while Abdullah’s conversations may take place out of sight of other government leaders, on Anwar’s side, phone calls are often made through a mobile in front of visitors and other courtiers. Nowadays, Anwar’s telephone conversations are often witnessed by sundry others such as visiting Islamic scholars, fellow opposition leaders, and certainly close aides who are never far from Anwar’s person. No doubt, quite justifiably, Anwar’s aides take a certain pride in the fact that their leader is in frequent communication with the Prime Minister of the country.
Immediately upon his release, Anwar stated that he wanted to formally meet up with Abdullah, a request repeated from his hospital bed in Germany. However, his request for an appointment, submitted by Azmin, went unheeded. In the midst of immense fear by the UMNO leadership that Abdullah was about to re-accommodate a ‘traitor’ to the UMNO cause, Anwar took the initiative of meeting Abdullah in a public function during Hari Raya.
The gesture was meant to be an open signal to Abdullah that Anwar poses no danger to him, at least as far as threats to Abdullah’s tenure is concerned. In spite of UMNO’s fear that Anwar’s ghost will return to haunt those who reviled him during those six years, it appears that Anwar is no threat to the Prime Minister and President of UMNO himself. Indeed, Anwar has become a useful icon to project Abdullah’s image internationally as a fair leader who backed genuine reforms, while at home amongst the common people, the testimony of Abdullah giving tacit acknowledgement that judges should be free and independent to decide Anwar’s case would forever remain a mark of his integrity. In spite of the view by UMNO leaders that Anwar should never be readmitted to the party, Abdullah evidently holds a different personal view.
Of course, this view may not appear obvious at this stage. Anwar’s release had provoked UMNO leaders into a frenzy of irrational attacks where they criticised ‘groups’ (read: Abdullah and his inner circle) who might intend for Anwar to come back into UMNO. The fear by UMNO leaders such as Hishammuddin Hussein and Mahathir’s sons, Mukhriz and Mokhzani, was real. Few of the leadership can match Anwar’s charisma and, in a fair contest where Anwar is allowed to be on equal footing with other contenders, he might just win. Nevertheless, the brickbats against Abdullah and his son-in-law (who had presumptuously visited Anwar on the night of his release) was sufficient to make both back down from their apparent support of Anwar’s case in the early days of September 2004.
However, behind the scenes, both Abdullah and Khairy have continued to at least maintain some form of relationship with Anwar. Abdullah himself has said nothing about any telephone calls to or from Anwar. Khairy, on the other hand, has been very open to his inner circle about his constant communication and, indeed, about meetings with Anwar’s stalwarts such as PKR Youth Leader Ezam Mohd Nor. Those in the know include Khairy’s men who are obvious Anwar supporters; such as Zambry Abdul Kader as well as the usual suspects such as Norza Zakaria.
The reason for these different attitudes between Abdullah and Khairy is quite evident. Abdullah is already Prime Minister and has little real and immediate needs for Anwar unless, for example, he is challenged by forces aligned to his predecessor, Mahathir, and perhaps led by his own deputy Najib Tun Razak. On the other hand, Khairy wants to be Prime Minister but is not yet there, so he needs as many allies as possible given the great big battles that would most certainly come in future.
The relationship between Khairy and Anwar’s inner circle started in the early days of Abdullah’s appointment as the Deputy Prime Minister. At that time, both Anwar and Ezam were in jail – the former in Sungai Buloh Prison, the latter in the Kamunting Detention Centre followed by Kajang Prison. In an effort to pressure the government, Ezam had communicated with Abdullah’s son, Kamaluddin, through an intermediary within UMNO Youth, to solicit Abdullah’s help in exerting some influence in their particular cases. But Kamaluddin was a businessman with little interest in politics, and although several notes passed between Ezam and Kamaluddin, nothing happened until Kamaluddin one day remarked to his sister, Nori, that he had been in communication with Ezam.
Nori took some interest in the correspondence. She referred the matter to Abdullah and, according to Ezam, asked Abdullah to see what he can do about releasing the ISA detainees. Nori also informed Khairy who immediately realised that there might be some value in making some small concessions to Ezam, with a future view of assessing the situation once Abdullah finally becomes Prime Minister.
At first the trail went cold. Then, through former Keadilan Vice Youth Chief Hamdan Taha who had left the party to rejoin UMNO, a message was passed to Khairy that the Anwar camp was open to negotiations.
Hamdan Taha had spent many years as Ezam’s right-hand man. His re-entry into UMNO was never made officially, but quietly. Nevertheless, he found himself advising several key members of the UMNO Youth Exco, notably former Anwar supporter Zambry Abdul Kader. Zambry often invited Hamdan to attend some sessions of UMNO Youth meetings where he was introduced to the rising star Khairy Jamaluddin. After several meetings, Khairy realised that Hamdan was a useful source of info regarding happenings in the opposition parties, as Hamdan still maintained relationships with several key opposition leaders, including Ezam himself. Though he was now in UMNO, Hamdan often spoke to Ezam either by phones smuggled into the prison or through personal meetings during Ezam’s many court hearings. Indeed, Hamdan was Ezam’s closest friend.
After a certain UMNO Youth Exco meeting, Hamdan took Khairy aside and told him of his ‘solution’. According to Hamdan, Khairy could play off Anwar against anyone threatening Abdullah’s position. Hamdan remarked that Mahathir’s deputies had an unfortunate trait of falling by the wayside before becoming Prime Minister. While Keadilan had originally attacked Abdullah’s appointment as Deputy Prime Minister, they could be easily persuaded to change tack and instead focus their vitriol only on Mahathir, but not Abdullah. In return, the cases of Anwar and the ISA detainees should be viewed favourably by Abdullah (then Home Minister) even if he could not openly interfere.
The idea intrigued Khairy enough to cause him to begin sending Ezam feelers through Hamdan.
These feelers did not result in any immediate relief for either Anwar or Ezam. Khairy was being very cautious, as he was being intensely watched by both the Mahathir camp and his enemies within Abdullah’s office. Some of Abdullah’s supporters such as the late Fawzi Basri and Dr. Nordin Kardi were intense enemies of Anwar since the 1970s when they took up the ultra-nationalist position against Anwar’s liberal Islamic view. Indeed, Abdullah’s inner circle included such personalities as Aziz Shamsuddin who had openly celebrated Anwar’s sacking in September 1998 with a kenduri. If Khairy was to play the role of communicating with the Anwar camp, he had to do it in a way so as not to rock the boat that was very fragile indeed.
At this point, Ezam stepped up his moves. He instructed Keadilan supporters to attack Khairy through the Internet. He also made sure that Khairy was criticised, especially in student gatherings which at that time were heavily infiltrated by both PAS and Keadilan supporters. The message eventually got to Khairy that he should accommodate Ezam or face enemies not only within UMNO but amongst the opposition as well. While a battle on two fronts is not unusual, it would make Khairy’s life simpler by only facing the enemy within who can be easily controlled by the power of the name of his father-in-law.
Khairy sent Ezam a message that he was open to negotiations.
From then on, things went smoothly. Khairy began to acquire knowledge of what Ezam wanted, namely that Anwar should be released by whatever means, even if it did not fully clear his name. The most important thing was that Anwar should no longer be in jail – even exile was preferable. All sorts of permutations were discussed. These included the idea of sending Anwar overseas for medical treatment and remaining there for at least some time. Khairy even sent a note during a meeting in the United States to Ezam confidante Adlan Benan, a fellow Oxbridge graduate, on whether it was possible for Anwar to consider rejoining UMNO. The message was duly passed through the lines to Ezam and the answer given back to Khairy. Ezam’s contacts in Selangor UMNO communicated with his strongman, SD Johari, that Khairy was very positive about cooperating with Ezam.
At all times, Anwar was kept informed of the negotiations.
The situation became clearer once Ezam was released by the Shah Alam High Court. Khairy now held open meetings with Ezam who came accompanied by one or two of his supporters. At this point of time, the Keadilan leadership was frantic because Anwar was getting seriously ill and all efforts were geared towards his release. Khairy was one of many UMNO leaders believed close to Abdullah who was approached by Anwar’s inner circle. Other UMNO leaders such as Aziz Shamsuddin and Mahathir’s political secretary (but really an Abdullah man) Johari Baharom were also approached. Yet none were as receptive as Khairy. The others felt that Anwar was historical baggage. Khairy had a different view. Anwar had a place in his future universe, where Khairy was the brightest sun.
It was at this time that Khairy began to think of future threats to Abdullah’s rule. When it was clear that Abdullah was indeed going to succeed Mahathir and that his appointment as successor was not a mere ruse, Khairy began to think of how to secure his long-term political future. It had been an easy rise as son-in-law of the leader of the country, but what if your father-in-law was no longer the leader? What if Abdullah’s tenure was shortened? Relying on Najib Tun Razak would be useless as he saw Abdullah as a rival and would never entertain putting Khairy in a prominent position within his own government. Setting up a rival to Najib within UMNO was also impossible given Najib’s seniority and apparent support from forces aligned to the Mahathir camp. The only alternative was to put a constant threat to Najib in the form of a man more likely to beat him in an open and fair contest. Such a man was Anwar Ibrahim, and Khairy understood that for at least the first term, if not throughout Abdullah’s tenure, Anwar could play this role.
It was a role that Anwar and his inner circle were willing to play. After Anwar’s release, Ezam continued to meet up with Khairy. While Khairy was secretive about the subject of discussion, it was a one-sided secret. Ezam told many of his followers about his meetings. Indeed, he often remarked that Khairy gave him information regarding the goings-on in UMNO far before such information became public.
Recently, Ezam had a meeting with both Khairy and Reezal Merican Naina Merican – where Khairy apparently told Ezam that UMNO Vice-President Isa Samad would be handed down a six-year suspension for money politics and other corruption offences. Ezam told the same to some of his closest friends, including allies of Isa himself. The information itself was not unusual but for the fact that the meeting allegedly happened six days before Isa was called up to face the judgement of the UMNO Disciplinary Committee.
The trust shared between the two is more likely the trust of political allies rather than friends. While both share the traits of rising young to the inner circles of power in Malaysia, both are also very ambitious men, skilled in the art of political deception. It remains to be seen whether the friendship between Khairy and Ezam is a genuine one, or merely a marriage of convenience.
In the meantime, Anwar Ibrahim continues to make his long-distance calls to Abdullah. As Anwar himself has said, he should not be written off. No one has done that, definitely not Abdullah and Khairy. Should the scenario change and the attacks by Mahathir upon Abdullah’s administration grow stronger, there will be no doubt that the setting sun may rise again to illuminate Abdullah’s rule. Together with Anwar, Khairy believes he can defeat any UMNO leader who tries to challenge him, including the people who are backed by Mahathir himself. While waiting for the time to come, Khairy prepares another important weapon always necessary for any big battle within UMNO – the weapon called money…
The Truth About Khairy Jamaluddin continues…in Part 9 – Birth of a salesman