Khairy on the up

FEB 20 —  Prime Ministers have only originated from four states. Even if Anwar Ibrahim becomes the first Pakatan Rakyat PM the count will still be four. There are more than whispers that perhaps Negeri Sembilan’s Rembau member of Parliament might lift the count to five.

Khairy Jamaluddin is the one man in Umno right now with the combination of high profile visibility and efficient machinery who is not under siege.

Therefore he is best positioned in the ruling party to make the most inroads at the highest levels with two full years before party polls, further still a general election. But will he?

High roller gets a dud, then changes casinos

It was not plain sailing for many years before the present reprieve for Khairy.

The early years of the Abdullah Ahmad Badawi administration (2002-2009) were blissful years for Khairy. His father-in-law was a breath of fresh air from the heavy-laden Mahathir end years, as evidenced by the landslide electoral win during Election 2004. Appearing as a key symbol of the changing times to be championed by the fifth prime minister, his omnipresence was persistently discussed.

The influence associated to him was so massive that he went on to become the deputy head of Umno Youth without a contest, the incumbent stepped aside.

Being too young and too powerful turned attention on him, and when Election 2008 went awry on five states under Pakatan it was convenient to make him a major scapegoat. Which was part of the reason why Abdullah could not name him to the Cabinet, and when Najib Razak took over he unsurprisingly kept the now Youth chief out of Cabinet.

No other government jobs were passed to him.

While Najib and his new government and economy transformation body PEMANDU were gathering accolades for a new way of running the country, Khairy was uninvolved any more with the government of the day.

So he turned his attention elsewhere.

The football initiative, becoming vice president of the Football Association of Malaysia (FAM) and the attempt to turn local football on its head by putting a team of nobodies together  and winning national league matches with MyTeam; and Najib loyalist posture (including joining the territorial army) helped reinvent Khairy to a new audience and past critics to reassess him.

In 2012, Najib appointed him to head the pro-Bumiputera entrepreneur fund PUNB (Perbadanan Usahawan Nasional Berhad) and a year later after the elections handed him the Sports and Youth Ministry.

The reinvention complete

Khairy’s most impressive achievement in the last six years is in not being referred to as the Oxford graduate anymore, which was more damaging than being called a former PM’s son-in-law. 

The Malaysian people can accept a person with family ties but not someone seemingly foreign. Oxford was the tag to make him appear as an outsider looking in, a euphemism for a political glass ceiling. The foreign sort don’t rise to the top, was implied in the moniker.

Foreign education did not mean you are by default foreign, in many instances it was the opposite.

After all, the first and second prime ministers were from Cambridge and the third a Lincoln Inn trained barrister. A foreign education is almost expected of our top leaders.

Khairy was the first to be pilloried for his Oxbridge ties.

In truth, Khairy’s “Oxford” was used to remind people that he spent the majority of his early years abroad and was never really educated locally at any level.

See how far he has gone since then.

This passing week he has both cautioned people from being overly critical of Valentine’s Day and defended the prime minister against attacks from a disgruntled P. Waythamoorthy who resigned accusing Najib of letting the Indians down.

Clearly both articulations reinforce his position of being a moderate and Najib loyalist. Coupled with other success such as his job fairs, Khairy has been making up for his grassroots deficit.

The Rembau gambit via Bagan Datoh

Power within Barisan Nasional is shaped at Umno assemblies and their occasional elections. The permutations favour him.

A race for vice-president spot at the next party polls — which can be delayed — would pit him against Kedah Mentri Besar Mukhriz Mahathir, a redo of the 2009 Youth chief race. With deputy president Muhyiddin Yassin expected to fade out, Ahmad Zahid Hamidi may attempt to promote himself to deputy president, freeing up a spot for vice-president. Another vice-president Hishammuddin Hussein might follow suit for the bigger prize, perhaps even allowing enough space for Khairy and Mukhriz to slip in as vice presidents.

Mukhriz has the harder job as Kedah MB, as the youth and sports portfolio rarely comes with curveballs hitting you squarely in the face.

Without a meaty scandal today to colour his life, Khairy can continue to spread his reach in the party while others work harder to stay afloat.

He’ll be the great emancipator

A fair share of Malaysians do associate hope with Khairy. I don’t share that sentiment, but many do.

My countrymen are always taken by the promise of something rather than the delivery of things. There is a societal feeling, latent perhaps, that only the bluebloods can lead the nation out of the mess. Times have moved on and it is not uncommon to see commoners in politics but surely it takes good breeding to save a nation?

And there are enough voters on both sides of the divide feeling the country needs saving.

Personally to me, in a perverse sense the country has a masochistic craving for a Leviathan to torment them, as long as he is benevolent in a way. Like in the Kubang Pasu way.

This is where the cross-appeal for Khairy can gain momentum.

Watch this space then

So the blip after a bright start over, the stars are aligning well for Khairy these days. With both opportunities rushing to him and a proportion of non-partisan voters willing to consider his leadership, these may be his years to shine.

There is a Cabinet shuffle in the horizon, you might want to keep an eye on the United World College graduate.

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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