The Truth About Khairy Jamaluddin – 28
The Truth About Khairy Jamaluddin continues here:
Part 28 – A New Deal: Losing the Plot?
It was billed as a minor reshuffle, but within hours of the announcement of the new cabinet line-up, Abdullah Ahmad Badawi was already thrown into serious damage-control mode. The backlash was almost instantaneous. Reporters who covered the event scarcely knew what to ask the Prime Minister because the expectations built up for a proper reform of the XXL dinosaur cabinet that Abdullah and Khairy Jamaluddin had stitched up after the last General Election had been badly dashed. While some foreign journalists expressed cynical comments regarding the retention of scandal-ridden, bumbling and corrupt ministers, the local newsmen, who had only a few days earlier been chastised for being too ‘foreign’ in their outlook, were left asking the silliest questions, such as the so-called ‘expectations’ of the prime minister of his new line-up. Deputy Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak could scarcely hide his glee at the obvious discomfort Abdullah was feeling at the disappointing announcement. No Malaysian watching the broadcast on TV missed noticing the body language of the two top leaders, which said it all.
Has Abdullah lost the plot? Over the last few months, some of Khairy’s closest associates had been told to spread the rumour that Abdullah was seriously changing the face of the cabinet to reflect more of his own avowed policy against corruption. Khairy had leaked information to foreign journalists including to his favourite stringers at the Singapore Straits Times that certain ministers such as the highly unpopular Rafidah Aziz would be removed, if not transferred to a less important ministry. But in the end the decision to retain her and other similar relics of the Mahathir era, plus the addition of a former minister, Tengku Adnan Mansor, who is facing bankruptcy charges in court, seem to show that Abdullah no longer listens to the whims of his favourite advisor and son-in-law.
Only hours before Abdullah made the announcement, Khairy had called up Reme Ahmad of The Straits Times to tell him of his ‘frustration’ at the line-up. The spin was working fulltime. Kalimullah Hassan Masheerul Hassan was told to inform his friends from the foreign media that Khairy was ‘disappointed’ with Abdullah’s appointments and that he had no hand in the new structure. Brendan Pereira and Hishamuddin Aun went the whole way by actually using the New Straits Times and Utusan Malaysia to mildly criticise Abdullah’s choices. So did The Star’s Wong Chun Wai who received an instruction from Khairy to ‘slap the new line-up with a silken blouse’. It was all a lie — a big ruse to cover-up what is perhaps Khairy’s most devious action to date.
The laymen amongst us could be forgiven for thinking that Abdullah was finally his own man. Lacklustre though it may seem, Abdullah had appointed a cabinet without consulting Khairy and basically deciding with little regard to the thoughts of the increasingly unpopular UMNO Youth Vice Chief. Certainly Khairy would like it to appear as if Abdullah was finally his own man. Over the last six months or so, one of Khairy’s main problems is the perception by both UMNO members and the public at large that he has become too powerful and influential and was the hand behind Abdullah. Khairy was seen as a meddler, an immensely powerful Svengali who plays puppet-master to the tired and sleepy puppet Prime Minister. It was becoming increasingly dangerous for Khairy because most of Abdullah’s gaffes and failures were being blamed on his ill advice and greediness.
Khairy’s PR problem resulted from these perceptions — be it true or not. Abdullah’s administration started out with the razzmatazz of an American imperial presidency but is now ending up looking like the silly farce that it really is. The civil servant turned politician is proving unable to shake off his flaccid image and he is beginning to inspire little confidence amongst the voters who had just recently put him in charge of the biggest majority ever enjoyed since the time of Tunku Abdul Rahman. For his own selfish long-term future, Khairy wants to seem as if he is no longer the Rasputin behind the Czar.
But a closer look at the cabinet line-up shows that Khairy’s fingers are still very much in the pie. Firstly, the retention of the so-called ‘dinosaurs’ such as Rafidah Aziz, Azmi Khalid, Aziz Samsudin, Rais Yatim, Samy Vellu, Lim Keng Yaik and the like. While seen by many as the failure of Khairy to reform the cabinet, it is actually Khairy’s very clever camouflage tactic. For the long term of his political career, Khairy does not need to drop these ministers now and make enemies of them more than two years before the next UMNO elections, when he is expected to challenge Hishammuddin for the post of UMNO Youth Chief. Dropping them now would not be a good move, as it would create animosity and strengthen the hand of Khairy’s enemies, especially Dr Mahathir Mohamad and his protégé Najib Tun Razak.
With this in mind, Khairy chose to retain these ministers and he persuaded Abdullah to do such. After all, if it becomes necessary, he can always take his time to drop them in the next few years. In any case, by retaining them, Khairy builds up the already steaming public anger towards these incompetent public individuals who are seen as enemies of the people by virtue of their propensity to enrich themselves at public expense. Khairy knows, not removing them would allow the devil to play in their idleness. Futhermore, if slighted, these people have sizeable treasure chests which they would readily spend to score their revenge on Khairy. So the tactic is to retain them, increase the public anger towards their misdeeds, and push for their removal only after the next General Election when some of them would have already reached the threshold age of 70 years or beyond.
Instead of disturbing or disrupting the top leadership, Khairy has instead strengthened his hand at the second echelon level. He has rescued a key loyalist, Noh Omar, from the frying pan of the Ministry of Internal Security and put him in the safer and relatively powerful (as far as UMNO eyes are concerned) post of Deputy Education Minister. Noh Omar is one of those people whom Khairy can rely on to secure a good stream of information about the activities of his current boss and potential rival, Hishammuddin Hussein. The truth of the matter is Noh Omar has been placed in that position for only two purposes.
Firstly, Khairy wants Noh to spy on Hishammuddin and sabotage any attempts he may make to strengthen his position ahead of the next UMNO elections. Secondly, Noh is a prominent member of the UMNO Club Alumni Organisation of overseas student graduates and, in the position of Deputy Education Minister, Noh would be able to enhance efforts of creating a powerful support base for Khairy among overseas Malay graduates. In the one year left leading to the next General Election, Noh would be in a powerful position to supply Khairy crucial tactical and strategic information. Simultaneously, Noh has been placed in the most senior federal position for a Selangor politician. By dropping Shafie Salleh from the Ministry of Higher Education, Noh is now the most senior Selangor candidate who Khairy can use as a potential menteri besar to replace the dangerous Khir Toyo, a man who is a potent obstacle to Khairy.
Another Khairy loyalist who got rewarded was Johari Baharom, the former Political Secretary of Dr Mahathir who turned traitor when he realised his boss’ days were numbered. Abdullah and Khairy had been using Johari as their eyes and ears in Mahathir’s office when the latter was in the dying days of his premiership. When Mahathir’s son, Mukhriz, tried to challenge Khairy for the post of UMNO Youth Vice Chief, Khairy had instructed Johari to destroy Mukhriz’s attempt by sabotaging his election in the Kubang Pasu UMNO Youth division. Johari’s success at tarnishing Mukhriz resulted in Khairy winning unopposed and Mukhriz was left licking his wounds in order to possibly stake his claim only in the next UMNO elections. By making Johari the Deputy Internal Security Minister, Khairy was making sure that the independent-minded minister of that department, UMNO Secretary-General Radzi Sheikh Ahmad, would be kept in check. Johari wanted to be promoted to a full minister like his fellow Political Secretary, Aziz Samsudin, but Khairy felt he needed Johari to continue being his agent and saboteur.
While Abdullah had explained, unconvincingly, that popularity in the UMNO elections means nothing in his decision to appoint cabinet ministers, the demotion of Ahmad Zahid Hamidi to one of only two positions in the Information Ministry was another of Khairy’s key tactics. Zahid was a popular UMNO Youth Head (popular to his own members, but scarcely so to the outside world). In fact, his strong showing in the UMNO Supreme Council elections a few years ago made Khairy quake. Like former UMNO Youth Head Syed Jaafar Albar, Zahid could quite easily make a comeback should Hishammuddin go for the higher post of Vice President. In such a situation, if Khir Toyo chickens out, Zahid could easily mount a challenge and defeat Khairy, knowing full well that he has the support of both the Najib faction (he was Najib’s former political secretary) and also the supporters of former Deputy President Anwar Ibrahim (who admire Zahid for having been detained under the ISA during the early days of Reformasi). In such a contest that would easily score him 60% of the votes.
Khairy cannot take the risk of facing such a challenger, especially if he is a minister. By the next UMNO elections, Khairy could not expect to be a minister, as it would appear too obvious that nepotism had become the policy of this tottering administration. The most Khairy could expect to become was a parliamentarian with perhaps a minor Deputy Minister’s post. That would scarcely be enough, given Zahid’s position as a highly popular former UMNO Youth Chief, Supreme Council member, his previous experience as BSN Chairman, and a huge treasure chest built up over two and a half decades from selling himself to the highest bidding businessman.
So Zahid loses his chance at a cabinet position yet again. He can scarcely be expected to fight back as he is still retained as a Deputy Minister, which is better than anything ever given to him by Dr Mahathir during the latter’s premiership. Dangling a carrot before Zahid is enough to keep the donkey in check and prevent him from becoming a stallion that might challenge Khairy’s throne.
Another key Khairy strategy is bringing back Tengku Adnan Mansor, the Melaka-born thug with royal pretensions. Khairy had earlier committed a blunder by removing Tengku Adnan after he had convincingly won the Putrajaya parliamentary seat. In an act of desperation and revenge, Tengku Adnan tried to kill off Khairy’s key ally, Ahmad Zaki Zahid, as Putrajaya Youth Chief. While he failed in that attempt through his nominee, the son of Home Ministry Secretary-General Aseh Che Mat, he had not kept quiet at his demotion. To placate him in spite of having promised the position of Federal Territory Minister to Tengku Adnan’s erstwhile deputy in the UMNO Liaison committee, Zulhasnan Rafique, Khairy placed him back in the cabinet. The position of Tourism Minister is one very suited to the womanising and fun-loving Tengku Adnan whose other key interests include shares in gambling companies and escort agencies. Khairy knows that, by the next election, he can always put Ahmad Zaki Zahid as the new Putrajaya MP and remove Tengku Adnan once and for all. But now is not yet the time. He can still accommodate Tengku Adnan for awhile. At the same time, appointing Zulhasnan as cabinet minister removes the possibility of him going to Najib’s side and instead make him forever grateful to the son-in-law.
The line-up of Abdullah’s cabinet seems lacklustre because the public focuses on only the first level of headline grabbers. However, everything falls into place when we look at the second tier of future leaders — those expected to provide fuel and fodder to Khairy’s attempt to seize the premiership of the country before the age of 40. The cold ruthless machinations of the young pretender can be seen at every nook and cranny of the new cabinet. Those who think that Abdullah has lost the plot may well be correct in thinking so, but Khairy has certainly not lost his. In fact, his position is strengthened. The scorecard for the new cabinet is that Abdullah is seen as placating the Mahathir-Najib faction and therefore could not be expected to be challenged by them anytime soon — while Najib himself could not propel forward, as many ministers equally if not more senior to him remain in the cabinet and could scarcely be expected to kowtow to their more junior colleague in spite of his role as nominal Deputy Prime Minister.
However, it is Khairy who benefits in the long term. The cabinet now may be made up of dinosaurs, but even as you read this Khairy is nurturing a new pit of vipers that will help him hiss his way onto the main stage of UMNO politics….
The Truth About Khairy Jamaluddin continues…in Part 29 – A New Deal: Rosebud – a new person in Abdullah’s life