The Truth About Khairy Jamaluddin – 20
The Truth About Khairy Jamaluddin continues here:
Part 20 – Does UMNO really want to win?
A Special Report on Khairy Jamaluddin’s role before and during the Pengkalan Pasir by-election
It is 8.00 am. Khairy Jamaluddin is stuck in the usual Monday morning traffic jam synonymous with Kuala Lumpur. He is running 15 minutes late for a meeting with some UMNO Youth leaders who had insisted on an early morning breakfast to discuss the latest power struggle in their division. Khairy had taken the precaution of sitting in the shotgun seat of his car. He often does that to avoid the impression of arrogance. The chauffeur swerves sharply along the meandering route to the Crown Princess Hotel where the meeting is to take place. Khairy quickly checks his wallet. He does not know what the boys want to discuss, but he is sure of one thing: whatever it is they had to say, he would be the one paying the bill that morning.
The special shirt that Khairy wore had extra pockets for the three handphones that he carries around. The First Handphone is the Maxis 012 that is his public number. Everyone knows what it is because Khairy puts it on all his name cards as well as the Pemuda UMNO website. Khairy uses it to send SMSes and the phone is always kept on silent mode because it rings every other minute. Everyone feels that Khairy owes them an audience and they range from the lowest member of UMNO Youth and part-time Internet buff who had come across the number in the old UMNO Youth website, to a Chinese towkay trying his luck with the man Singapore businessmen are already dubbing ‘Mr 20%’.
Khairy’s Second Phone carries a 019 number that he gives out only to important contacts. The editors of the mainstream newspapers both in Malaysia and Singapore have this number, as do two of the most prominent young opposition politicians in the country, Husam Musa and Ezam Mohd Nor. The number is also available to ministers who nowadays feel it necessary to call Khairy once in a while just to touch base and shoot the breeze. He never uses this phone except for the closest of acquaintances and he knows that when it rings he should not pick it up in full view of the general public.
It was this handphone that suddenly beeped. An SMS had come through. The time was 8.05 am. The news was brief and necessarily succinct. It read: “Wan Aziz, ADUN Pengkalan Pasir, dies at 6.05 am this morning”. Khairy knew immediately what this meant. For three months, both UMNO and PAS had been on a bedside vigil, waiting for Wan Aziz to pass away. The state assembly member for Pengkalan Pasir, a small but significant state seat in the Parliamentary constituency of Pasir Mas, had been suffering from liver cancer and his condition had been deteriorating rapidly. So all knew that it was a matter of time before UMNO and PAS would have a real fight on their hands. Khairy also knew that the giant of Pasir Mas, Dato’ Ibrahim Ali, would be a factor in this race and had to be extinguished once and for all.
Khairy instinctively picked up the Third Handphone. This is an iPAQ, the number which is pre-programmed with his codename and known only to the Prime Minister, his immediate family, and their security detail. This is also the number that Abdullah Ahmad Badawi would use to speak to his son-in-law. Abdullah Badawi himself has only one phone which is almost always carried by the Private Secretary following him at any given function. Abdullah’s number is on a secure line, unlisted and cannot appear in any phone because it has been pre-programmed as such by a security expert. It even has the ability to send out SMSes and other messages through an anonymous router so that the number does not appear at all. Khairy thought that he should call Abdullah’s number and inform him of Wan Aziz’s death. But then Abdullah would probably have known about it first and it was no use telling him something he already knew. In any case, Khairy remembered that an incident in March 2004 had turned Abdullah off Kelantan politics.
Back then, Abdullah was heavily dependent on Khairy to devise his election victory. Though the image-building and spin-doctoring had been a success, Abdullah still felt that Kelantan was out of reach for UMNO. If Abdullah was now being sold as an ulama, then Kelantan Menteri Besar Nik Aziz is the father of all ulamas. His leadership of the state looked unassailable because of the high respect accorded his straight attitude by the local Malays. Admittedly, he was prone to gaffes, but then so was Abdullah.
Abdullah had sent an emissary to see Nik Aziz to offer a compromise where UMNO would give PAS an easy passage in certain seats. Of course, UMNO would not shirk from fielding a candidate there as well, but it would conduct a half-hearted campaign in these selected seats where it had no chance of winning. Nik Aziz was agreeable to the idea but the plan was shot down by other PAS leaders, in particular the Young Turks in Kelantan. So Abdullah had to go back to the drawing board and together with Khairy devise a new strategy of putting professional faces as candidates in Kelantan.
Khairy presented the candidates’ list to Deputy Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak who was chairing the committee tasked with the job of selecting BN candidates for the General Election. Najib was highly disturbed. The Kelantan list excluded almost every man who had previously been an ally of Najib. Instead, these figures who had served with Najib in UMNO Youth had been replaced by ‘outsiders’ – i.e. fresh blood from Kuala Lumpur. These new lawyers, accountants, businessmen and former civil servants were Khairy’s choice to change the face of Kelantan UMNO. It also matched the new image of the leadership of Kelantan UMNO Liaison Chief, Mustapa Mohamad, who is seen as uncharismatic, wooden and boring, though a genius at economics.
Najib did not say a word to Khairy. But he immediately asked his Political Secretary, Datuk Fatmi (the former UMNO Youth Head of Kota Baru), to fax a copy of the list to Najib’s allies in Kelantan. They were understandably upset, angry and demoralised. To them, Khairy’s list represented the end of their political careers. Though they knew they could not say anything now, they would devise a plan to humiliate Khairy later on. The young man went to sleep unaware that at least 20 UMNO leaders in Kelantan were sharpening their knives and had now suddenly become his sworn enemies.
A few days before Nomination Day, the list drawn up by Khairy and approved by Abdullah was sent by messenger to Kota Baru. UMNO Kelantan was supposed to keep the list in a safe so that the surat watikahs can be prepared for Nomination Day. At least that was the plan. Unfortunately, Khairy did not count for the wily behaviour of his Kelantan party colleagues. When flight MH1388 touched down at the Sultan Ismail Petra airport in Pengkalan Chepa, the UMNO messenger was immediately met by 10 burly figures in UMNO Youth uniforms. Thinking that they were his minders, he quickly got into one of the cars on standby for him. However, instead of heading for the UMNO headquarters, the car made a detour and the bag carrying the list was quickly snatched away. The messenger was detained in a safe-house in Jalan Long Yunus and ‘advised’ to stay there until the ‘bosses’ had done their work. What happened next was like a bedroom farce. All those UMNO leaders whom Khairy had dropped; some whom were qualified lawyers and many of them former members of the state government of the 1980s; were put back into the list to replace the names of all those whom Khairy had picked. This new list was then deposited as the proper list to be used for the 2004 General Election. It was just a matter of hours before the press conference by the Kelantan UMNO State Liaison Committee to announce their line-up for the coming polls.
Of course, the messenger’s silence was procured through a suitable bribe. Nevertheless, the secret could not be kept for long. People like Dato’ Nordin Razak, who had been tipped to contest the Kota Baru parliamentary seat and had told his friends accordingly, suddenly found themselves dropped from the list. Others like Dato’ Mustapa Taib saw their names appearing elsewhere. Parliamentary and state candidates were switched around, including Hanafi Mamat who had been slated for a parliamentary seat rather than the state constituency of Pengkalan Pasir which he ended up contesting. Those who were dropped or switched around swiftly called up Abdullah’s office to complain. But it was too late in the day. Abdullah was too busy to entertain them as he had to face other problems such as the appearance of a so-called ‘Mahathir list’ and the Sultan of Johor’s rejection of Abdullah’s candidate for Menteri Besar. Instead of finding a firm offer from Abdullah to reinstate his son-in-law’s list, the decision was made that the doctored list would now become the official one. Abdullah did not want a scandal so early in his premiership, so he shrugged it off as irrelevant because UMNO probably had little chance of winning Kelantan anyway.
Surprisingly, things turned out very differently. PAS managed to hold onto the Kelantan State Assembly by the narrowest of margin and quickly found themselves under pressure to hang onto their last bastion. It was then that Khairy committed his second Kelantan blunder. He received a call from Husam Musa to explore the idea of both parties holding a ceasefire in their election petitions against each other. Khairy began negotiations and concluded them with Husam without even referring to the state leadership. He of course called up Mustapa Mohamad but neglected to discuss it with other top UMNO leaders in Kelantan, many of whom would not be told of the decision because they were not on speaking terms with Mustapa.
The decision to ‘make a deal’ with Husam resulted in Khairy losing the support of some of the Kelantan UMNO Young Turks eager to seize the day and depose PAS from Kelantan once and for all. They did not want PAS to have even an inch of opportunity in recovering from the setback they had suffered at the General Election. Many of them also felt they had good cause to challenge some of the narrow PAS victories, especially in seats where votes had been counted twice or where ballot papers had disappeared or had been wrongly distributed between candidates. Even some of the older UMNO leaders like Hashim Safin openly opposed Khairy’s decision to make a deal with Husam on their behalf. One thing the Kelantanese UMNO leaders hate more than PAS is any UMNO leader from outside Kelantan who makes decisions on their behalf. Fiercely independent, they resented the brash, young Oxford graduate whom they felt had been easily tricked by Husam; who is at least ten years Khairy’s senior and much more experienced in local politics and therefore seen as wilier in local politics.
So, in spite of the mass media saying that Khairy is a popular leader with Kelantan UMNO, he had a fair share of enemies from the state. He may not realise it, but even if he had meant well in making a deal with PAS, it would have been better if someone else rather than he make that decision. The resentment he caused seethed down to the divisions and seriously affected Kelantan UMNO, which will now have a major impact on the Pengkalan Pasir by-election.
A few hours after Wan Aziz’s death, Khairy received a phone call from Dato’ Rahim, the Pasir Mas UMNO division head. Dato’ Rahim told Khairy what he already knew, namely that Wan Aziz was dead. Dato’ Rahim said nothing else other than whoever was chosen to contest the by-election would get his full support. Of course, this was not what Dato’ Rahim really wanted. He had been eyeing the seat for several months. Though he was a Parliamentary candidate in the last general election, Dato’ Rahim was desperate to prove that the weakness of Pasir Mas UMNO was not a result of his ineffective handling of the antics of his sacked predecessor, Dato’ Ibrahim Ali, but a result of ‘other people’s incompetence’. More importantly, Dato’ Rahim had the money to pump into the by-election and would more willingly spend it on his own candidacy rather than someone else’s.
Khairy did not see it that way though. To him, Dato’ Rahim is a big name who had failed to deliver. In any case, he was too old, and Dato’ Rahim must have realised from the tone of his voice that Khairy did not want him to fill in Wan Aziz’s shoes.
Instead, Khairy was more amenable to a younger candidate. There were two: Hanafi Mamat, who as a 51-year old businessman was not overly old yet nor too young to be described as a Khairy puppet. Then there was Che Johan Che Pa, an Arts graduate from the University of Malaya who had made good as a lawyer with his second degree from the UK. Both called up Khairy and told him that, like Dato’ Rahim, they too would give their support to whoever was chosen as the candidate.
At first, Che Johan had the upper hand. Khairy felt that Che Johan was more presentable than Hanafi. Che Johan also had an impeccable student activism record, something which Khairy himself sorely lacks. Khairy was persuaded by Che Johan’s friends who sent him countless SMSes to extol the lawyer’s candidacy. More importantly, the Special Branch had reported that Che Johan had successfully infiltrated PAS circles by putting ‘pretend’ PAS Youth members in their midst. Some had even been chosen as members of the Pasir Mas PAS election strategy team. The sneakiness of Che Johan’s work commended himself to Khairy.
Khairy’s mistake, however, was in revealing his preference too soon. Amongst others, Khairy ‘checked’ Che Johan’s name with other local UMNO leaders including Dato’ Rahim. Though they tried their best to bite their lips and fake their agreement, secretly they planned to bring Che Johan down. Dato’ Rahim’s strategy was simple. He would lull Che Johan into thinking that his candidacy was assured because he had the blessing of Khairy. Dato’ Rahim planned for Che Johan to accompany visiting UMNO dignitaries such as Secretary-General Dato’ Radzi Sheikh Ahmad and Information Chief Tan Sri Muhammad Muhammad Taib in their visits to the constituency. Che Johan believed the nomination was his for the taking.
Dato’ Rahim then started a whispering campaign to oust Khairy from running the election. In the beginning, Khairy had been nominated as the man responsible for the UMNO campaign in Pengkalan Pasir. In preparation for this, Khairy began appearing in newspapers in the act of greeting villagers and shaking hands with elderly folk. At first, the strategy worked. Newspapers showed Khairy in the guise of a pious mendicant, sporting a watch bearing signs of the kiblat and wearing something on his wrist which even Jeff Ooi was fooled into saying in his blog were ‘prayer beads’ or tasbih. Khairy was portrayed as a man for all seasons, someone who was equally comfortable with kings as well as paupers.
Then Dato’ Rahim struck. Early on in the pre-campaign period, Khairy had briefed all the major newspaper editors not to carry any news regarding Dato’ Ibrahim Ali, the independent candidate who was a would-be spoiler in the race. A vote for Ibrahim Ali would probably have come from UMNO partisans, and therefore an advantage to PAS. Khairy’s idea was to shut out Ibrahim Ali completely and make him ‘disappear’ from the radar screens.
The plan backfired badly. Word soon leaked to Dato’ Ibrahim Ali that Khairy had given the gagging instruction. Ibrahim Ali however had a trump card up his sleeve. In the run-up to Nomination Day, UMNO began to panic. Efforts were made to coax Ibrahim Ali into changing his plan. A meeting was held between UMNO Secretary-General Radzi Sheikh Ahmad and Ibrahim Ali to ‘negotiate’ his withdrawal from the race. Unknown to Khairy though, Ibrahim Ali had agreed to withdraw only if he was given back his UMNO Pasir Mas division head post and replaced Annuar Musa as the Kelantan UMNO Liaison Chief.
But that in itself was not the trump card. There was another person in that meeting who was representing the UMNO President. Strangely enough, this was none other than SPR Chairman Tan Sri Abdul Rashid Abdul Rahman. The purpose of his attendance was to convince Ibrahim Ali that he could garner no more than 700 votes whereas he had achieved double that in the election before this. Tan Sri Rashid showed Ibrahim Ali the calculations regarding the ten voting channels or UPU of which, according to Tan Sri Rashid, UMNO had a clear majority in at least seven of them, including several previously considered Ibrahim Ali ‘possibles’. Only Kubang Bemban, Jalan Pasir Pekan and central Pengkalan Pasir seemed to be slightly favourable to PAS. It was all a bluff of course. Tan Sri Rashid had culled his report from a certain Major entailed to make preliminary enquiries – in any case highly inaccurate. But Ibrahim Ali now threatened to make public the fact that Tan Sri Rashid, a supposedly neutral election commissioner, had really been quite openly acting for UMNO and indifferent to public opinion if not for the coverage by the local media.
Ibrahim Ali’s intention is not to win the by-election but to garner enough votes and stay relevant in Kelantan politics. If Ibrahim Ali can get more than 1,500 votes, this in itself would be a tight slap on the face of the UMNO leaders, Khairy included, who had sidelined him from the state leadership years ago. Ibrahim Ali knows the state assembly seat means nothing to either party if he wins it. But it matters both to UMNO and PAS that they themselves get it.
Dato’ Rahim is blaming Ibrahim Ali’s move on Khairy. So Khairy was ‘persuaded’ to lay off Pasir Mas for awhile and leave things to the locals to handle. Instead, Khairy was given the task of coordinating efforts in KL and to mobilise campaigners from outside Kelantan to get Pengkalan Pasir voters in Kuala Lumpur to go back to vote on 6th December. In the meantime, in Khairy’s absence, Dato’ Rahim outmanoeuvred Che Johan. He arranged for Deputy Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak to ‘receive’ a poison-pen letter with certain documents proving that Che Johan had been involved in forging the cheques of an UMNO foundation called Yayasan Pasir Mas to the tune of RM200,000.
Najib panicked and immediately summoned Che Johan who stammered and explained that he signed the cheques on the instructions of the then foundation chairman, namely Dato’ Ibrahim Ali. Najib refused to listen and swiftly deleted Che Johan’s name as the candidate for the Pengkalan Pasir by-election.
It was too late for Khairy to do anything about it. By that time Dato’ Rahim had played his second card. He immediately announced that he himself did not want to be the candidate and left the door open to Hanafi Mamat, who of course is now not expected to challenge Dato’ Rahim in the next UMNO divisional election. Che Johan had no choice but to give grudging support to Hanafi. But he did not lie still, bemoaning his bad luck. Instead, Che Johan began to block his supporters from attending campaign meetings conducted by UMNO. Their numbers began to dwindle and became starkly evident whenever top UMNO leaders including Deputy Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak and UMNO Youth Leader Hishamuddin Hussein came to visit.
Che Johan now knew he had no chance against the united alliance of Dato’ Rahim and Hanafi Mamat. The only way he could remain relevant in future Kelantan politics is to have a godfather bigger than the two of them combined. His immediate thoughts went to getting Khairy on his side. Though he might have lost his chance now, backing Khairy would ensure that, at least in the long term, he would be carried as baggage on Khairy’s coattails.
So it was important that Khairy came back to Pengkalan Pasir. The UMNO leadership was now crippled by the Pasir Mas civil war and the incompetence of the top state leaders. It was also noted that, whereas other UMNO leaders came only to give grand speeches in orchestrated public ceremonies, Khairy had a knack for going down to dirty his hands with the common people. The arrival of Anwar Ibrahim on the evening of Nomination Day convinced UMNO that they too needed a hard-hitter who could not be so easily dismissed as another UMNO stereotype.
But Khairy’s return to Pengkalan Pasir is not universally welcomed. Many top UMNO leaders are unhappy that he is drawing too much attention to himself and drawing away publicity from their own appearances. Wanita UMNO Head, Rafidah Aziz, seethed with anger when she discovered that only RTM followed her around during her brief sojourn in Pengkalan Pasir, while all the other news stations and print media went tailing Khairy to a surau-painting exercise. According to an RTM reporter, Rafidah sarcastically remarked that she was merely an old ‘makcik’ and ‘they should follow that young man around instead of her’. In addition, several UMNO leaders from outside Kelantan now began to carry some unsavoury material to share with their friends. This included a 25-page poison pen letter detailing Khairy’s financial scandals which had previously been circulated in Kedah during the tussle between Menteri Besar Syed Razak and his heir-apparent Mahadzir Khalid. Because other states had not received such letters, some of the Kedah boys made it a point to make several copies and share them with their fellow party members from outside. One copy found its way into the hands of Adnan Yaakob and a certain Menteri Besar from the south asked his secretary to make a copy for each division head in his state – of course, ‘only for information purposes’.
More importantly, Khairy’s re-emergence in Pengkalan Pasir has made UMNO Youth leader Hishamuddin Hussein even more suspicious of Khairy’s future plans. Already angry that Khairy divided Pengkalan Pasir into east and west between the two of them, as if they are equals, Hishamuddin lacks the ‘star quality’ that Khairy exudes. Hishamuddin knows that a victory in Pengkalan Pasir would not be attributed to him as he is scarcely there, even in the five voting channels he is slated to be in charge of. Hishamuddin’s runner, Akhbar Khan, had to beg a reporter from The Star to cover Hishamuddin’s badly attended functions rather than cover Khairy’s more popular ceramah. All the newspapers have dubbed the Pengkalan Pasir by-election as ‘Khairy’s election’ and it will be Khairy who gets the kudos if BN wins.
So a PAS victory in Pengkalan Pasir will be a disappointment to only certain UMNO leaders. Abdullah Badawi himself could not care less what happens because with a sizeable four-fifths majority in Parliament he is nominally the most powerful Prime Minister ever. But to Najib and Hishamuddin, a BN victory is Khairy’s victory and a sure sign that their days are numbered.
On the other hand, a PAS victory in Pengkalan Pasir will only further dent Khairy’s invincible image. He cannot afford to be seen by his fellow UMNO members as having failed to deliver. If he plays his cards wrong, Pengkalan Pasir may be Khairy’s Pearl Harbour, the beginning of when people start to realise that Khairy is not the giant that the NST and TV3 paints him out to be.
Khairy is trying hard to make sure that BN wins in Pengkalan Pasir. All out efforts are being made to bring back nearly three thousand voters who live outside the constituency, either in other areas in Kelantan, in Kuala Lumpur, or even as far away as Singapore. The SPR has been told to hold off efforts by PAS and Dato’ Ibrahim Ali to get information regarding the ‘immigrant’ voters. At the same time, money is pouring into Pengkalan Pasir as if this was an election for the whole state of Kelantan. While the newspapers have been downplaying BN’s inroads in the constituency, this is merely to stave off PAS voters from turning out in large numbers on Polling Day.
For all intents and purposes, Pengkalan Pasir is no longer just a by-election in a small town that no one knew existed until a couple of weeks ago. Pengkalan Pasir is a proxy war. It is also a war being fought on many fronts. It is a war between the Ibrahim Ali faction, that wishes to prove he is still relevant to Kelantan politics, and the current Kelantan UMNO leadership, that wishes to retire him for good. It is a war between UMNO and PAS to determine who would probably form the state government come the next general election in 2007 or 2008. It is a war between Khairy, who wants to prove his prowess, and those who would like to bring him down and deny him the Prime Ministership in 2015 or so.
Never before has so many political futures rested on a mere by-election.
Khairy knows that in the current situation, where the ratings are 50:50, UMNO will still squeak through with a majority of around 500 votes. A small ‘skewing’ of votes will not be that suspicious. But if PAS ever finds an issue that swings the voters on the ground to more than 60% support for the Islamic party, then Khairy might have to kiss Pengkalan Pasir goodbye. And PAS seems to have found such an issue; the issue being the Kelantan UMNO state chief himself.
Khairy realises that the infighting in Kelantan UMNO is even fiercer than that between it and PAS. The greatest liability to UMNO is its state chief, Annuar Musa. The Chinese despise him for his ‘China baruah’ retort in the Kelantan State Assembly that has been reproduced into a VCD and is being circulated amongst the Chinese voters. The other Kelantan UMNO leaders despise him and want Pengkalan Pasir to fall to PAS just so that Annuar Musa can be brought down. With Annuar Musa heading the by-election, UMNO might as well pack its bags and allow PAS a walkover.
Then the uphill battle would begin, not for Kelantan UMNO, but for Khairy Jamaluddin as the UMNO politician.
Khairy is now playing his last card. He has just sacked Annuar Musa and replaced him with Muhammad Muhammad Taib. Mat Taib is supposed to be the saviour, the man who will turn UMNO’s fortunes in Pengkalan Pasir around. But Kelantan politics, just like its land laws, is unique. Even Malays cannot buy land in Kelantan unless they were born there or, in the event they are a ‘foreigner’ Malay from another state in Malaysia, have lived there for three generations. Putting Mat Taib, a non-Kelantanese, as the election chief is only slightly better than asking the MCA President, Ong Kah Ting, to manage the by-election.
Is this eleventh hour move by Khairy his biggest blunder yet in Kelantan? In three days’ time we will know. Khairy will either emerge from the aftermath of Pengkalan Pasir as the undisputed political guru, or he will be seen as a bumbling fool. This is going to be the turning point for Khairy’s political career, one way or another…
The Truth About Khairy Jamaluddin continues…in Part 21 – The Aftermath: Whose little victory?