The Truth About Khairy Jamaluddin – 15
The Truth About Khairy Jamaluddin continues here:
Part 15 – The game of high stakes
Politics is a game of high risk. The ebb and tide cannot be estimated and often those who ride the surf, even after many years, find that the great big ocean swallows them up the moment they make the smallest slip. It is not a game for the faint-hearted, as a fall often breaks or even completely kills off one’s career. When a politician falls, he is often shamed as well. The price of such a collapse is much too high for the majority of us and yet people line up for their fifteen minutes of power in order to taste what is so often described as the headiest thing a person can experience – the power to lord over your fellow human beings. The gamble of politics produces an adrenalin rush which, as Henry Kissinger said, is the most powerful aphrodisiac.
For Khairy Jamaluddin, power has come quick and fast. He has risen far in a short period of time at an age when most people would only be thinking of where to find their next rent or car instalment. More powerful than most politicians thirty years his senior, Khairy has had a taste of power which the majority of us will never experience, even up to our dying days. He sits within the ranks of those whose actions can, if they so wish, determine the confluence of our own lives.
Yet Khairy has reached there by playing a game of low risk. He is not much of a gambler and his rise to power has been relatively easy. Instead of relying on the roll of the dice and the decisions of Fate, Khairy has instead opportunistically weaved his way to the top on the back of others. His accession, for example, to the second topmost post in UMNO Youth was more an anointment rather than an election. Acclaimed by the cowed and dumbfounded UMNO Youth Members, Khairy would not have got where he is today if not for the grace of his father-in-law. Admittedly, he is far more intelligent than most UMNO leaders, even those who have been in this game for a few decades. However, there have been many UMNO leaders with more promising intelligence, abilities and charisma who have fallen by the wayside, simply because the majority of UMNO leaders are not selected for their talents but for their connections and, nowadays, their ability to dispense patronage.
Khairy’s politics has never been tested. While the sycophantic journalists of foreign newspapers and Brenda Pereira’s coterie of spin-stringers in Jalan Riong constantly attribute Khairy to many of the so-called successes of present-day UMNO, the claims are largely hollow. For example, Khairy cannot be credited for diffusing the Suqiu affair for the simple reason that Suqiu had already backed down under pressure from the UMNO thugs led by Aziz Sheikh Fadzir. Khairy’s contribution to the stunning success of the Barisan Nasional in the last General Election was limited to selecting the motto ‘Cemerlang, Gemilang, Terbilang’ (together with the quote-machine Kalimullah Masheerul Hassan), selecting candidates (who would have been selected anyway on the Barisan Nasional onslaught if they had been cows instead of humans) and promoting a more presidential image for the lacklustre and uninspiring Abdullah Ahmad Badawi. For Khairy to be credited with actually snatching victory from the jaws of defeat is to give a lie to the signs that were shown many months before the election. Malaysians, tired of the Anwar affair and pushed to the brink by the hard fist of Mahathir Mohamad, simply welcomed the kinder, gentler government that Abdullah promised, including the soon-to-be-broken pledges of eradicating the choking corruption of the last 22 years.
Brendan Pereira, Phar Kim Beng, Reme Ahmad, Zainuddin Affendi, Leslie Lau, Rosli Ismail and other journalists of that ilk knew full well when they praised Khairy that they were exaggerating the circumstances. Yet those news reports allowed them access to the inner circle of Khairy’s politics and, more importantly, direct access to the man himself. To a certain extent, it is advance payment for services rendered in the future. They know that Khairy is the current ‘rent-a-quote’ and they needed to have good relations with a man so eager to show the world how markedly different and superbly intelligent he is compared to the previous generation of doddering UMNO fools.
Can Khairy play this game endlessly? Already there are rumours of the impending instability of Abdullah’s government caused by intense pressure from all sides. Abdullah is facing political enemies within UMNO from amongst the allies of his predecessor as well as his potential successor, Najib Tun Razak. The economy is extremely bad and the government presented a hopeless budget which in its detail shows that there is no way the Malaysian deficit problem can be addressed anytime before the end of the next parliament to be elected sometime in 2008. Inflation is rife, running at 9 to 10% and only slightly lower elsewhere. The crushing inability of the GLCs to produce quick solutions to Malaysia’s cashflow problems is compounded by the extreme reliance on the Oxbridge circle, regardless of their moral and corporate governance issues. UMNO resists almost to a man efforts to transform it from a corrupt, scandal-ridden and patronage-infested clan of self-interested individuals to a more responsible political party in the real sense of the word.
Khairy’s solution is to use the spirit of the time to bring in reforms that will benefit Abdullah’s image as well as his future. Yet these reforms are increasingly seen by the public to be obviously catered towards Khairy’s own survival. He brushes aside these concerns at his peril, because together with openness comes open criticism and Khairy is sorely untested when it comes to that. Khairy has never faced anything but praise from within his party. Nor has he been challenged by an effective opposition leader of his stature. The best PAS can produce is Husam Musa who early on had compromised his principles by making a deal with Khairy on the court challenges that each party had initiated regarding seats in Kelantan and Terengganu. Charismatic politicians in PKR have been killed off by the implicit instructions of Anwar Ibrahim not to criticise Abdullah and other members of the current government such as Khairy. Ezam Mohd Nor is a leader lost in his own dreams, not realising that he is treated as a joke in Khairy’s circle due to his incessant demands to be given a Deputy Minister’s post when he returns to UMNO. The DAP is still in transition, Lim Guan Eng being the future yet in many ways already a man of the past, too closely tied to his father’s politics to make a major impact against the charisma of Khairy Jamaluddin.
And so Khairy plots his imminent rise, almost unchallenged. The only dangers are if his gambles become bigger and riskier, later failing to deliver. For example, Khairy had recently arranged a meeting in London between Anwar and Abdullah. Ostensibly, Abdullah was on a roadshow to showcase the potential of Malaysian investment. It was a disaster as far as the economy was concerned for the simple reason that Abdullah has not shown any innovative approaches to the Malaysian economy. The two questions he could not answer were why his policies were borrowed almost wholesale from the guidelines of Temasek Holdings in Singapore and, secondly, why he was harping on sectors such as agriculture and biotechnology which, worldwide, contribute to a miniscule proportion of the world economic engine.
Of course, Abdullah could not answer those questions for the simple reason that his mind was on other things. The RM2.3 million visit was important, yet not as important as the visitor he received in an anteroom of the hotel where the meetings were held. Too bad for Abdullah, he was unable to keep it secret as a certain Menteri Besar accidentally walked into the room during the four-eyes meeting. But that did not matter. Anwar and his boys would have leaked news about the meeting anyway….
According to Zunar, former cartoonist and current editor of Suara Rakyat, the exchanges between Anwar and Abdullah were mainly concerned with Abdullah expressing his frustrations with the counter-reactionary forces of Mahathir and Najib. Zunar may have exaggerated the whining of Abdullah, yet the message he wanted to put across was obvious. Abdullah is a man under strain and he needed an ally in the form of Anwar. Secretly, Khairy tells his friends that Anwar’s popularity amongst the common people, if combined with Abdullah’s, would make his own future politics much more assured and less risky.
Of course, Zunar is merely a propagandist. He is paid to make Anwar seem like a god. His livelihood depends on Anwar believing that he has done a good job in making Anwar seem like the infallible political genius that any thinking person knows he is not. Zunar, therefore, plants stories that any spin-doctor worth his salt knows in his heart of hearts is only 10% accurate.
People like Zunar want the world to think that, without Anwar Ibrahim, Khairy would die the moment Abdullah leaves office. Of course, as a cartoonist, Zunar’s politics is based on satire and parody which is almost always an exaggeration of the truth. Yet, there is no denying that several key Khairy allies have made implied comments receptive to Anwar’s return to UMNO. Khairy wants to gamble on this but he is slowly playing to the gallery, trying to feel out the reactions of the public before he rolls the dice. According to Zunar, the entry of Anwar into UMNO has often been discussed in his meeting, telephone conversations and discussions with Abdullah. However, to preserve the dignity of both top players, it is Khairy and Anwar’s protégé, Ezam Mohd Nor, who are planning the actual details. More meetings over the coming months are being arranged between Abdullah and Anwar.
In spite of Anwar’s public pronouncements against rejoining UMNO, the truth is both Anwar and Khairy are testing the waters before the actual gamble is made. Khairy needs to test UMNO members’ reaction to the re-entry of Anwar by denying the ease with which Anwar hopes he could re-enter UMNO. Anwar, on the other hand, needs to test his followers’ perception of his leadership before actually telling them that that choice has been opened up for him. He could not afford to alienate too many of his former Reformasi supporters. Though Anwar knows some will fall away in disgust at his opportunism, yet many others will remain simply for the fact that seven years is too long for most of them to be without any political power at all.
But Anwar’s risks are lesser than Khairy’s. Anwar has had the biggest fall of all the UMNO politicians, being beaten almost to death on the instructions of a man who until the very last moment was still described by Anwar as a father figure. There is nothing more in the world that can be used to test his mettle for he and his family have gone through it all. On the other hand, Khairy has always been cushioned by his proximity to Abdullah Badawi. If he were to fail in this gamble, not only he but Abdullah would be swept away by the UMNO members and raged by the machinations that would destroy their comfortable world of ill-gotten gains and wealth by patronage. Khairy is testing the waters because this gamble is of much too high a stake. It may secure his position in the long term, yet it may also fail and plunge both he and Abdullah into the abyss in which Anwar was thrown not so many years ago…
The Truth About Khairy Jamaluddin continues…in Part 16 – The walls that talk