The Truth About Khairy Jamaluddin – 21
The Truth About Khairy Jamaluddin continues here:
Part 21 – The Aftermath: Whose little victory?
The morning of the Pengkalan Pasir by-election, the Barisan Nasional election machinery was confident of an 800-vote majority win. Hanafi Mamat, the candidate for Barsian Nasional, predicted that he would capture around 8,000 votes, giving a comfortable lead over his rival from PAS. On the other side of the fence, the PAS operations room was still hopeful for a victory but predicted that the numbers, whatever they may be, would be wafer-thin. In the end, both camps got it right. BN got their victory, and PAS correctly predicted that the victor would obtain a minute majority, almost a blip amongst the 83% turnout.
No doubt BN secured their predicted victory, but tongues were soon a wagging about whether Khairy Jamaluddin had delivered what he promised. Early on in the campaign, Khairy had gone into Pengkalan Pasir in a blaze of glory. He had muscled in a massive publicity trail on the back of his down-to-earth approach, where he made personal appeals directly to the voters by attending to their individual needs. Khairy was seen painting houses, repairing toilets and cleaning up the streets as if that was the natural thing for a director of financial giant ECM Libra to do.
Somehow or other, Khairy had confidently announced he would be able to capture almost all the 2,000 young voters of Pengkalan Pasir. Given that in the last General Election PAS had won by only a 53-vote majority, this would translate into a 1,600-vote jump in the BN vote and a very comfortable 1,000-vote majority. Khairy had also promised that UMNO would be able to shake PAS to the core by obtaining the whole-hearted support of the 1,000-strong non-Malay community of the area.
Nevertheless, this promise did not come true. The victory Barisan Nasional ‘bought’ was derisory and difficult to justify in the face of the millions that had been poured into the area by both Barisan Nasional and the government. Based on the allocation given to Hanafi Mamat alone, each vote he garnered was worth at least RM11,500. It was a costly and ridiculously extravagant affair by Barisan Nasional for a seat that only produced a whisper instead of the storm of change they had expected in Kelantan politics.
Why did Khairy fail to deliver on his promise this time around? What happened to the genius that managed to score Barisan Nasional’s massive four-fifths landslide victory in the 11th General Election? Did Khairy’s magic turn out to be no more than a conjuring trick, a flash in the pan unable to sustain itself when it came down to real politics, instead of the spin doctoring that marked his earlier phase in politics?
Khairy’s failure was predicated on several reasons, some of which were his own doing. The first failure was the result of his ‘in-your-face’ style of campaigning which would have worked if he himself had been the candidate, but unfortunately distracted the UMNO machinery into an internal dispute. Khairy hogged the limelight and ruffled the feathers of the senior UMNO leadership in Kelantan. He had thought that the power of his superstar status would have made him a magnet to the voters.
Khairy was half-right. Many had come to observe out of curiosity the little ‘wunderkind’ from Kuala Lumpur who had been described by many as ‘the next Prime Minister but one’. But the voters of Pengkalan Pasir, the ones who really counted, did not flock to Khairy like the many groupies from other parts of the country that did so. To them, Khairy, like Anwar Ibrahim, was a curiosity – a freak that entertained them while the circus was in town. Anwar Ibrahim, too, had drawn many onlookers during his brief sojourn in Pengkalan Pasir. Tens of thousands had flocked to see him speak. But the majority of these did not have a vote in Pengkalan Pasir. Pengkalan Pasir was merely the circus and the spectators all came from outside. So, like Anwar, Khairy drew the crowds who in the end mattered least.
The voters of Pengkalan Pasir realised that, in the end, Khairy would go back to Kuala Lumpur and their hovels would still be rundown, their toilets dirty and their roads blotched. It was of no consequence to them that Khairy, for a few brief days, became the centre of attention in their tiny town.
So the media-hungry attitude of Khairy actually caused little effect on the voting pattern of Kelantan. It was a hard sell that did not work. On the other hand, it managed to rouse the anger of other UMNO leaders, notably Hishammuddin Hussein, Khairy’s ostensible boss, who was heard to grumble that his events were badly-attended due to the Pemuda machinery being commandeered by Khairy to follow in his tow, rather than serve the needs of Hishamuddin. The distrust between Hishammuddin’s camp in Pemuda UMNO and Khairy’s bunch of Young Turks has now reached boiling point. Hishamuddin took no credit for the victory or otherwise of BN in Pengkalan Pasir, knowing that it was Khairy’s intention to rub the shine on himself. For the time being, Hisham grits his teeth but the water is coming to a boil and will soon result in one of the two killing off the other.
But Hishammuddin is only a tentacle of the man who has now become Khairy’s real political rival. This man is heir-apparent Najib Tun Razak. In the past, Khairy’s friends who were close to Najib tried to build a consensus between the two camps. Najib also went to great pains to pander to Khairy’s whims and fancies — such as bowing to his choice of officers in the Deputy Prime Minister’s Department. However, Pengkalan Pasir was the turning point in that relationship. It is now obvious to Najib that Khairy intends to rush headlong into UMNO politics instead of patiently awaiting his turn. At risk is Najib’s own tenure as the future Prime Minister and the position of his allies, including that of his cousin Hishammuddin. The self-seeking publicity Khairy sought in Pengkalan Pasir made it patently obvious to Najib’s camp that this young man was too much in a hurry and was willing to bulldoze his way through.
Khairy’s insistence, for example, that his preferred choice of Che Johan Che Pa as the candidate for Pengkalan Pasir was a challenge to Najib’s power. It is known in UMNO circles that Hanafi Mamat, having served as a former Youth Chief of Pasir Mas division during Najib’s tenure as UMNO Youth Head, was closer to and more trusted by the Deputy Prime Minister. Khairy’s dogged attempt to sell Che Johan as the more professional, youthful and forward-looking candidate irked Najib to no end. Finally, Najib exercised his prerogative by shooting down Che Johan over a corruption scandal involving a few hundred thousand ringgit. In actual fact, Najib was shooting down Khairy.
Of course, the Najib camp also did its best to discredit Khairy in Pengkalan Pasir. Accusations of Khairy’s misdeeds as the son-in-law of the Prime Minister were circulated not only by the PAS camp, but more by Najib supporters who used Pengkalan Pasir as an excuse to trade poison-pen letters about Khairy. Originally, supporters of outgoing Kedah Menteri Besar Syed Razak Syed Zain (no fan of Khairy) distributed details of Khairy’s devilish behaviour to visiting UMNO division leaders, and they were soon joined by people who were doing the same on behalf of potential UMNO Youth Head and Selangor Menteri Besar Khir Toyo.
Details that emerged showed quite clearly that forces within the government and UMNO were out to expose Khairy by using the opposition as a front. It was a proxy war which saw Khairy being attacked on a scale so personal and unprecedented since the time Anwar Ibrahim used the Reformasi movement to bash Dr Mahathir Mohamad.
Khairy, of course, could contain the damage due to his control of the media. But the media has also become a Pandora’s Box. Khairy’s people in the media sniffed the air of freedom in the early days of Abdullah’s ascent to power and now felt that they had a little more guts than during Mahathir’s time. So, while they still toed the line, they have not been completely obedient to Khairy’s instruction to kill off all stories touching his personality. It became an issue in Pengkalan Pasir and voters were gleefully regaled with attacks on Khairy, as if he was the Prime Minister himself. No one bothered about deadpan, uninspiring, lethargic and tired Abdullah Badawi. Instead, they attacked what certain bloggers described as the Czar’s Rasputin.
All this made Khairy’s attempt to turn Pengkalan Pasir into a personal triumph a complete disaster. For the first time, UMNO members realised that Khairy was not a demigod but flesh and blood. They also knew for the first time that he could become a liability to the long-term survival of UMNO. Khairy’s unpopular attempts to replace the rank of UMNO leadership with his own cabal struck fear into the hearts of the veterans who are now beginning to realise to their chagrin that Abdullah Badawi could not be trusted to protect their careers against his rising son-in-law.
More importantly, Khairy’s narrow power-base within Pemuda UMNO are now waking up to the reality that there will be times when Khairy cannot deliver his promises. He failed to put in their preferred candidate. He did not manage to secure the support of the young men and women of Pengkalan Pasir. He is a potential source of rift between the leaders of Pemuda UMNO. And, most glaringly, Khairy was unable to shirk off the image that he is an opportunist who exploits the fact he is married to the Prime Minister’s daughter to make his way in the world. The most disappointed of all the UMNO machinery was the Pemuda ranks from whom Khairy hoped to launch his groundswell of support.
When a demigod becomes mere human, he also becomes prone to mortality. Pengkalan Pasir was the first salvo of a concerted attempt by forces opposed to Khairy to gather their collective strength and finish the boy wonder off. Let there be no mistake, even in the opposition there are people who are allied to Khairy’s cause, for example PAS Vice-President Husam Musa. Husam had built his reputation after the last General Election upon good relations with Khairy. His deal with Khairy to mutually withdraw both parties’ election petitions against each other and his reliance on Khairy to deliver monetary support to the ailing Kelantan government backfired badly. It looks like Husam is finished as the future Menteri Besar of Kelantan. He is no longer a trusted man amongst the members of the elite of PAS. Though he may still be the right-hand man of Menteri Besar Nik Aziz Nik Mat, he pulled his punches too often and will face an uphill struggle to regain credibility. In any case, Nik Aziz is living out his last days as Kelantan Menteri Besar. As Khairy’s star dims, Husam’s too will fade away.
Khairy’s enemies both within UMNO and the opposition will find common cause in defeating him. It would be easier for the senior UMNO leaders to openly back Najib Tun Razak against Khairy, as it will be Najib who is credited with the BN victory in Pengkalan Pasir. Najib’s choice of candidate, his personal attention to the ground machinery, his use of the established network in the Special Branch as well as the Election Commission, and his knack for building a consensus amongst the UMNO leadership was far more successful than Khairy’s abrasive steam-rolling.
Najib made friends in Pengkalan Pasir, whereas Khairy only created more enemies. The situation now is not an easy one for Abdullah Badawi. He is placed in a similar position as Dr Mahathir Mohamad was in 1998 where the heir-apparent had become a threatening figure to his legacy. Uneasy days lie ahead for both Najib and Khairy. But it is a turning point for both men. Najib has salvaged his reputation as the sitting duck, waiting for Khairy’s rifle to shoot him down. On the other hand, Khairy faces the first of his many internal challenges within UMNO. Whereas Khairy has risen effortlessly through the ranks thus far, the next steps in his climb up the pole of UMNO politics will be met with the bristle of thorns.
Armageddon comes soon for many in Malaysian politics. Within UMNO and within PAS, the post-mortem of Pengkalan Pasir will be followed by the drawing of daggers. Some will stab and some will be stabbed. The dirty rush of Malaysian politics will again lead to an interesting time for the people and other observers alike.
The Truth About Khairy Jamaluddin continues…in Part 22 – A fatal miscalculation