SEPTEMBER 8 — It’s that popular 80s computer game, Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego in reverse. Replace “world” with Malaysia, and off goes Khairy Jamaluddin across the nation to look for a seat now he’s forced to say bye-bye to Rembau — his constituency for the last 14 years.

Across the nation is a misnomer since East Malaysia is a non-starter, which leaves him with Peninsula’s 165.

Plenty of options on the surface but then the other pre-conditions kick in. They have to be Umno seats.

With MCA and MIC — poor Gerakan went rogue with Perikatan Nasional — tugging at Umno’s coattails to sustain political relevance, it’s probably from 120 seats.

Presciently, Umno would rather not suffer in Bukit Bintang, Kota Melaka or Damansara. They’ll leave those humiliations to MCA candidates.

We digress, this is about Khairy.

Due to a combination of Umno’s long culture of no parachute candidates — unlike DAP (Lim Kit Siang has contested in five states since 1969) — and identity politics, Perlis, Kedah, Terengganu, Kelantan, Pahang, Melaka and Johor are off the plate. Zahid Hamidi would never entertain the man who came close to ousting him as Umno president in Perak, his home state.

Now it gets grim, this prognosis.

Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin speaks during the National Organ Donation Awareness Week closing ceremony at Dataran PPR Seri Alam 2 in Kuala Lumpur September 4, 2022. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa
Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin speaks during the National Organ Donation Awareness Week closing ceremony at Dataran PPR Seri Alam 2 in Kuala Lumpur September 4, 2022. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa

The health minister can ask for Penang mainland’s Kepala Batas as it was his father-in-law Abdullah Ahmad Badawi's long-held seat. However, Khairy’s former Umno youth deputy Reezal Merican Naina Merican is MP and not likely to step aside.

Klang Valley (Selangor and Kuala Lumpur) only offers six possible seats where Umno is competitive: Sabak Bernam, Tanjung Karang, Kuala Selangor, Lembah Pantai, Setiawangsa and Putrajaya.

The last is the promised land, near impossible for Umno to lose but a queue for it stretches to Alamanda Shopping Mall with exiting MP Tengku Adnan Tengku Mansor’s son in the mix.

The first three named — provincial seats — are minefields as local wrath will follow. Those Javanese prefer their own. Already Finance Minister Tengku Zafrul Aziz has called dibs on Kuala Selangor.

So, to KL then.

Setiawangsa — with police and military votes — is more fancied than Lembah Pantai; regardless both MPs Nik Nazmi Nik Ahmad and Fahmi Fadzil are nervous. Which explains why Fahmi hits hard at any missteps by Khairy’s portfolio. Those gentlemen funnily enough rely on Umno’s own turf battles to keep Khairy out of the valley.

Those stops bring him to Negri Sembilan again, and there are competitive seats: Jempol, Jelebu, Tampin and Kuala Pilah.

It might shock middle-class observers but warlord culture is real and Umno Deputy President Mohamad Hasan commands Umno Negri Sembilan. He was a three-term mentri besar but he would be a novice MP if elected.

As second in command of Barisan Nasional factored with Zahid’s court difficulties, Mohamad is closer than ever to being the first PM from Negri Sembilan.

As it stands, Khairy in the Dewan Rakyat is an unnecessary threat.

The Oxford graduate would be in his fourth term and eight years as minister if BN prevails along with him — possessing a better CV than Mohamad at the federal level.

Which is not ideal for the Umno deputy president. Khairy might be one of the few things Zahid and Mohamad Hasan readily agree on.

They can bring him back as senator to run any ministry, up the government’s credentials. Use him and castrate him politically. Two senate terms later, Khairy can opt to be a reliable supporter of BN and chairman of a slew of major GLCs. Maybe Khazanah chairman and manage our wealth.

Just not PM, or close to it.

The reality of parliamentary politics

While Khairy will conceivably receive more votes than Zahid or Mohamad nationally, that’s not how prime ministers are determined.

Each Malaysian votes in one parliamentary seat only. Candidates in those seats only need to outdo the others in that particular contest.

Then the numbers among the 222 elected MPs based on the collection of each party and then independents determine who has a majority in the lower house. He is then made prime minister.

To provide context, Khairy only collected 36,000 votes in Rembau in 2018, while fellow Oxford alumnus Tony Pua had 121,000 votes or almost four times more in Damansara — the highest in Malaysia.

Should Tony Pua be PM based on vote yield? The path to parliament is best via membership of an establishment political party, rise in its structure by virtue of family connections, local appeal, network inside the organisation or talent. In Umno, to expect to rise on talent is akin to waiting for Godot.

So being smart, sharp, incisive and qualified are useful, and only that. More treasured is to be enamoured by everything at a kenduri, spout praises to all present, exclaim piety towards the faith, and hold back opinions about policies and moral obligations. And yes, the right grandfather or spouse helps, a lot.

To be truthful, the present Rembau MP cannot complain. He rose the Umno way.

The painful realisation for Middle Malaysia is how to cope with this imbalance.

If it has to be a BN administration, they can stomach a Khairy type but struggle to swallow a Zahid or Mohamad type. Realpolitik steps in to tell us party politics dominates.

Power is control of 112 seats in Dewan Rakyat, and therefore parties not personalities spearhead the effort.

Want more bad news? Grind your teeth, but as it stands — Umno party elections delay keeps Zahid as head and MUDA’s acquiescence to Pakatan leadership — only Zahid, Mohamad, Muhyiddin or Anwar can be prime minister after GE15. Those who want to operate outside the party system, must gather more than a hundred candidates to defy the parties. Almost insurmountable.

This is why established logos and party names have massive advantages.

Should that be the way? The traditional first past the post (FPTP) is the simplest form to measure political support but not the best form.

Those in power know that but the current situation plays well for them. So they will leave it be.

Just like how the Umno hierarchy might leave Khairy be, in the cold.

*This is the personal opinion of the columnist.