To observers, Khairy’s recent tweets signal move to chart own future

Khairy Jamaluddin speaks during a press conference in Parliament, Kuala Lumpur November 1, 2018. — Picture by Firdaus Latif
Khairy Jamaluddin speaks during a press conference in Parliament, Kuala Lumpur November 1, 2018. — Picture by Firdaus Latif

KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 11 — Khairy Jamaluddin’s recent caustic remarks against party colleagues on Twitter provide a hint at the former Umno Youth chief’s future plans, one that political analysts see as suggesting a bold bid for the leadership, or simply abandoning the party.

The defeated Umno presidential candidate’s messages on social media to date, pinning Datuk Seri Najib Razak as a liability due to the latter’s involvement with ongoing probes over 1MBD, mark a clear departure from the line adopted by most of his party colleagues, the analysts said.

Politically, the social media rebuke against Najib could set back Khairy’s push for a leadership bid as the majority of party conservatives will likely view the Rembau MP’s Twitter salvos as blatant insubordination.

Yet analysts see them as well-calculated moves. With youth support within Umno firmly behind him, the first draw against the party’s old guards could help Khairy build an image as a reformist helping to rejuvenate and steer a sinking party back to greatness.

“His almost unequivocal support for more progressive political stances would suggest that he is either biding his time until when Umno’s leadership has new openings,” Asian Strategy & Leadership Institute senior adviser Oh Ei Sun told Malay Mail.

“Or contemplating leaving a fossilised Umno to further his career,” he added.

Khairy has been a vocal advocate for internal reform after Umno’s defeat in May. In a series of open statements made on social media since the former youth and sports minister has been consistent in urging the party leadership to shed its communalist image and adopt a progressive outlook.

He has not shied away from chiding party conservatives whom he views as liabilities and an impediment to rebuilding efforts.

Just last week, Khairy locked horns with Umno supreme council member Datuk Lokman Noor Adam, on Twitter after the latter called him a traitor for blaming Umno’s electoral loss on Najib and the 1MDB financial scandal.

In a scathing tweet, Khairy described Lokman as having an IQ of a “carrot”, adding that he would sack the latter if he were Umno president.

Lokman, a controversial politician with a reputation for nativist politics, is a staunch Najib supporter.

The spat is seen as indicative of Khairy’s views about Umno’s present direction — that the party under the captaincy of Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi has done little to reform and has continued to associate itself with the very ideology that has brought about its own collapse, including rallying behind Najib.

“Khairy just wants to set a different direction for Umno, away from Najib’s shadow,” said Mohd Azizuddin Mohd Sani, a political analyst with Universiti Utara Malaysia.

“For Khairy, as long as Najib still shadowing Umno, no way Umno can start rebranding its image and new ideas produced by Umno can be appreciated by the people.”

Najib is facing a mountain of criminal charges over allegations that he received more than RM3 billion siphoned from state fund, 1MDB. His wife, Datin Seri Rosmah Mansor, has also claimed trial to 17 money laundering charges.

To this day, the former prime minister insists that the charges are politically-motivated. The Pekan MP has since embarked on a campaign to clear his name through self-organised gatherings and on social media.

At one such gathering held last weekend, Najib repeated his belief that BN and Umno lost because of “lies” and “fake news” spread by Pakatan Harapan (PH). He argued that PH’s fake news campaign gave it the upper hand and made the contest “uneven”.

The event was widely reported and drew criticism from across the political divide, including from Umno leaders. In an immediate tweet addressed to Najib, Khairy bluntly dismissed the former prime minister’s claim.

“BN lost because of 1MDB. The end,” Khairy tweeted.

Last weekend, Umno-owned Utusan Malaysia’s editors wrote a scathing editorial that suggested Najib was definitely guilty of scandal.

Khairy’s relentless reproach against his former boss likely underscores the major shift in sentiment towards Najib within Umno, but whether or not its members can clear the party from the taint of corruption by association remains to be seen.

“The reality is that it is difficult to remove Najib’s shadow. Umno or Khairy have to find new formula to rebuild or rebrand Umno while facing all challenges before them,” Azizzudin said.

Yet some analysts believe Khairy’s attacks against Najib are personally motivated to save his own credibility.

“He was slammed by Ahmad Zahid Hamidi before [for being an opportunist], who said Khairy had no balls when the 1Malaysia Development Board issue was paramount,” said Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia analyst, Kartini Aboo Talib.

“Looking at it from that way; yes, Khairy can be seen as such. However he was also smart enough to make a public apology broadcasted live on Astro, following BN’s defeat on May 9,” she added.

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