Thursday, November 20, 2008

Interview with The Sun - 23 October 2008


The Sun Interview, that I consider as one of KJ's best interviews, is reproduced below for your reading pleasure:


UMNO Youth No 2 Khairy Jamaluddin, no longer the favoured candidate, is struggling to be elected to the top position in the movement.Only 32, he is already a controversial figure in Malaysian politics. He says in an interview with Zainon Ahmad and Husna Yusop that much of what people think they know about him is urban legend.


The Sun:So, how has the race been so far?


Khairy:Well, it’s been quite tough actually, to be honest. But I hope to qualify and make it to the final round.Before the race started, did you think you would qualify quickly?Well, I expected a tough fight and obviously circumstances have made it somewhat difficult for me. After the first couple of days, I realised it was going to be a little bit difficult.


What circumstances?


I think circumstances surrounding the overall political scenario in Umno with PM not defending his post and I think because of that there is a perception that I suddenly became the underdog, not the favourite. Of course before that I said I hope this doesn’t change people’s perception and their ability to evaluate each candidate on his merits. But we cannot deny the fact that obviously this has contributed somewhat to the perception at the Youth level.


Could it be the numbers are coming in slower than expected because of the perception that because the PM is leaving, therefore there is no point to support his son-in-law anymore?


In a nutshell, I suppose that’s what I’m trying to say.


But would you say that your rise in the party from a relative unknown to Umno Youth deputy leader has been quite fast in the sense that many people take many years to get to that position?


Yes, it was fast but I must admit that I never wanted it. When Youth leader Datuk Hishammuddin Hussein asked me to contest the post in 2004 I told him I wasn’t keen but I asked him for some time to think about it. Then, one thing led to another and people started nominating me and by that time it was difficult for me to get out of it. So, of course, as much as I’m a politician, I was happy for the opportunity. But I must also say categorically that I did it for him (Hishammuddin) because he asked me to do it.


Of course, being son-in-law of the prime minister also helped. Hishammuddin may have noticed other qualities in you that could help Pemuda but he must have noticed you first because you are the son-in-law.


I don’t want to speculate what his consideration was but I enjoy a very good relationship with him. I was appointed member of the exco for four years before that. There must have been something that he saw in what I’ve done that wanted him to ask me to be his deputy. I was very clear when I contested that I’m doing this because I want to serve as his deputy, to help him out in whatever it is he wanted to do for Umno Youth. And that really was what my deputy leadership of Umno Youth was about. It was nothing more or beyond that. Of course people say that I was an ambitious person because I took on this role very early in life. But if truth be told, it was because of that – because he asked and I obliged.



Maybe you were seen as ambitious because at one point you were supposed to have been made head of a GLC when you were only 30. And then you were reported to have said that you could be prime minister by the time you were 40.I never declared that I wanted to be prime minister, let alone prime minister by 40.



I’ve never said that to anybody. Again, this has become some sort of urban legend about me, that “this is what he wants to do” but I never said that. And I don’t think it ever crossed my mind, until people started saying it. And then it didn’t even cross my mind to think it, in the way I wanted it, but it crossed my mind thinking why would people even want to say this about me. So, people, again, prescribed and prescribed many things to me which is divorced from the truth.


It is good that you are making this clear now.


I’m happy to do it now because if I did it when Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi was still prime minister, I mean he is prime minister but he has announced his retirement, people wouldn’t have taken it seriously. But now that he has announced his retirement, I think it is time for me to clear the air on some of these myths and legends that have grown around me, that have become larger than life, the sort of perception that people have created, generated and perpetuated.


Maybe what helped perpetuate the urban legends about you is the Khairy Chronicles carried by Malaysia Today website. I am sure you are aware of it but because you didn’t do anything about it, people thought that there may be some truth in the chronicles. Why didn’t you do anything about it?


The first thing that comes to mind is that it’s very well-written. So, it’s very entertaining. And I’ve read some of it and it makes for a riveting read. Maybe my mistake was that I ignored it. I underestimated the persuasiveness of the fictitious account in the chronicles. But, when you ignore, there is a void and when that void continues to be filled by the chronicles, then people start saying this must be true. Maybe that was my mistake.


But I feel a little bit vindicated because more and more people feel that what is published on the website borders towards the ridiculous. Now legal action has been taken against webmaster Raja Petra. I didn’t do it because I thought, biarlah. You know freedom of speech and all that. You can take legal action but if you want to take legal action, you are going to be taking legal action every day because people say things about you every day. Maybe that was my mistake.


But, at the end of the day, all I can say is that my conscience is clear. I believe the Khairy Chronicles were a fictitious account, based on half-truths, slivers of information – and a whole fantasy world was spun around little bits and pieces of information.


But it did help to perpetuate the myth about Khairy Jamaluddin.


Of course. I think it was one of the most important creators of the myth of the fictitious personality that is Khairy Jamaluddin. But now I pay the price, I guess, for not fighting quicker, earlier and harder against that. But at that point it was difficult also because everybody wanted to believe that, because people wanted to have a bogeyman in the government and obviously if you don’t go for the prime minister, you have to go for a weaker link, and that was me.


Talking about the prime minister, I think you agree that he received a roaring show of support when he came into office, the unprecedented huge mandate they gave him. And then his popularity dipped mainly because he was perceived as having failed to carry out the reforms he promised to do. Do you dispute that perception of Abdullah and his administration?


I think one of the principal reasons for his success initially was the changes that were promised and at the same time, one of the principal reasons why it has not turned out the way supporters wanted it to turn out was because, as you said, many of the reforms were not implemented fully, because of not enough time, not enough perhaps determination to see it through. But I think we have to admit at the same time, apart from issues of leadership, there is also an issue of resistance to this change. And the resistance comes from so many quarters, from vested interests, from within the party itself, from within the government. And when roadblocks are erected along the way and you have one man, pretty much, trying to change decades of the way that we do things, it becomes very difficult. And after a while, when you have a prime minister that is well-intentioned, but then the reforms and changes that he wants to bring are simply not embraced by the people that are with him, then at the end of the day it was going to be very difficult to succeed.


Just before the general election, things got so bad that the government was clearly unpopular and the result was what happened on March 8. But over and above that, the role Umno Youth had played had not helped to endear the people to Umno and the Barisan Nasional.


Yes.


You agree with that?I think we realised that. I wouldn’t say that what we did was completely misplaced, completely an error but I think some things that we did could have been positioned better, could have been articulated better. These are some of the things that we need to look at in the future, some things that I believe I would like to see some re-examination of what we do, how we think and how we act as Umno Youth.


Just to go back a bit about you personally. There is this thing that is being said about you – another urban myth maybe – that you have become a collector of commissions. That the GLCs cannot act without Khairy saying so or without Khairy getting a piece of the action or something like that.


Again it is a perception perpetuated by people who are not happy, people who have vested interests, so, they want to find a scapegoat, somebody to blame about this and I can categorically say that as far as GLCs are concerned, commissions are concerned, my conscience is absolutely clear. And I don’t know where these accusations originate from. I can only imagine where they originate from but until today nobody has come up with concrete evidence supporting these accusations. As a human being, surely when you are asking people to judge you, you must ask them to judge you with the evidence that is presented before you, not on innuendo, not on rumours, not on insinuations. How are you supposed to judge somebody based on loose talk? If there are facts, let’s talk about it. And I’m ready to talk to anybody, to debate with anyone, about any facts that they may have of any wrongdoings, any other accusations against me in this regard.


Of course people know that corrupt practices abound in Umno. Those who are vying for positions in the party have to build up their war chests to buy votes. So they have to accumulate money. It is an established fact. Because these things have become widespread in the party, it is difficult for the Umno leadership to tell the public that it is committed to fight corruption or to root it out completely.


Correct. Absolutely. But the Umno leadership must first commit itself in trying to change the party culture. The party culture has not changed, that’s why they fall into this trap. They fall into this trap of having to pander to the members’ desire for material gains so they themselves have to raise war chests. When they have to raise war chests, they may or may not abuse their positions in government. This is something serious. I’ve been in this game now for eight years. People say he’s budak setahun jagun, berhingus but actually, I’ve counted, eight years in the party, so I have actually seen quite a bit of it. And until we move away from it, it’s going to be very difficult because nobody wants to be the guy who says, I’m not going to play the game. Because, the moment you don’t play the game, you are going to be in a lot of trouble. But, I believe we have to do it. That’s why I am going out there and trying to do things differently. People may believe or not believe what I say but that has to be based on something else, that has to be based on a higher purpose and that’s what we were here for. Anyway, I’ll try. If I’m not successful, at least I will go down doing something right.



So this is what, among other things you would be fighting for, if you were to become the Umno Youth leader? But don’t you feel that with so much vested interests and old entrenched “culture” in Umno you will be bogged down?


I hope this realisation that if anything, the March general election has told us that there are certain things that people are not happy about in Umno and Barisan Nasional. Generally speaking, people still like BN, still like Umno. There is this history, this perjuangan, the principle behind it that people like. But I think people don’t like the way we carry ourselves, the way we do things. I suppose, as an example, people actually like the party but not the people leading the party, termasuk saya sendiri juga (including myself). But we have to have this perception and see what went wrong. Maybe as someone said to me the other day, this is the perception, whether or not it is true. He said: “We were excited when we went into Umno because we thought we were going to change Umno but Umno ends up changing us.” So, I said, well I don’t think it’s entirely true but nonetheless it’s a perception that I have to deal with and a perception that must be corrected. I’m willing to fight very hard to try to make sure that people look at Umno in a way that Umno deserves again. But that starts from the people within Umno.


Just before the elections, the political climate was really not helping to make the non-Malays to vote for BN and I think after the elections, things are almost as bad. Like the Malays constantly talking about the need to unite and holding congresses to say so and the non-Malay parties in the BN talking about leaving the coalition. What is happening?


I think after the elections, the bottom fell out of our society. Many people disregarded a lot of things which I think are still important – some even say sacrosanct in society. People talking about other ethnic groups, encroaching into other ethnic groups’ rights. And it goes both ways. Malays into non-Malays and vice versa. And that has led to this feeling where the centre isn’t holding anymore, things are falling apart. And when that happened, traditionally BN has always been there to bring things together. So, I really think the most important thing today is for BN to strengthen itself. Not just Umno, MCA, MIC in parts. It has to be a complete and integrated strengthening of the alliance itself. If you do so in isolation, it doesn’t mean very much in the overall context of BN. So, when you said people saying Malay NGOs, Hindraf, Chinese component parties – grassroots saying MCA and Gerakan not being treated very well in BN. So there is this sense of disappointment, of not being able to see the actual strength of power- sharing anymore. Now what you have is everybody wants everything for themselves.


You think the BN can be reinvented, restructured, rebranded or reconstituted into a formidable force again, in time for the next general election?


I think so, because BN has history on its side. We have real respect for one another. Of course, I feel disappointed that the level of cooperation within BN is still not at a level which is consistent. We come together during elections, but when it’s not election, we seldom meet, we seldom do things together. Umno does its thing, MCA does its thing, MIC does its thing. But then we have once in a while the convention, by-election, then we come together-lah, terhegeh-hegeh kita datang Barisan Nasional, you know. But the level of multi-ethnic camaraderie within BN is still lacking. It is as though we only come together for electoral purposes because we are part of this pact, the same coalition. There is no genuine feeling of a shared destiny, of a common future. That’s something we have to change and I feel very strongly about that. So, in Umno Youth, I’ve been consistent from the beginning, I said Ketua Pemuda Umno is also Pengerusi Pemuda BN. That’s why I said I’m contesting not just as a Malay, but as a Malaysian. And I don’t want to make a mistake that this is a contest just for the hearts and minds of Umno Youth members. This is actually a contest for the hearts and minds of all Malaysian youths. And if you get that right, then I think you can bring about something different.


Ketuanan Melayu. Where do you stand on this?


Well, Ketuanan Melayu is a phrase with a particular context. It is very much something to do with the Rulers – their role, their place – and how they reflect the position of the Malays in Malaysian society. That’s what Ketuanan Melayu is about. It’s not about supremacy. It’s not about Malays’ overbearing agenda over other ethnic communities in Malaysia. Ketuanan Melayu has a particular context. It’s not a context of master-and-servant or master-and-slave. It’s a context of the position of the Malays as enshrined, codified in the Constitution of the Federation, saying yes, the Rulers are Malays. So the Rulers are the Tuan. They are Tuan for all of us, not just for the Malays, but for all Malaysians. That is the specific context of Ketuanan Melayu.


Are you a committed multiracialist?


I’m committed to multiculturalism, multiracialism. And I’ve been consistent from the start. Even though I bring the Malay agenda in Umno Youth, I’ve always said this Malay agenda must exist within a national context. The Malay agenda is a national agenda. This attempt for us to resolve once and for all what was described once as the Malay dilemma must be an effort by everybody. It must be a national agenda. We cannot do this alone. We must do this together with the rest. I suppose if you were to give labels, I’m a classic Malay nationalist – in the tradition of Tun Abdul Razak Hussein and Tun Dr Ismail Abdul Rahman, in the tradition of somebody who believes very strongly in Malay nationalism, a nationalism meant to help the country, not just the Malays.


A lot of people have said that there is general feeling of openness under Abdullah. While many may agree with this observation, this openness – the freedom of the press for instance – must be institutionalised. Some laws need to be repealed and some amended. Only then can we say that we are moving towards real openness. What’s your thought on this?


Firstly, I think the openness, democratisation, liberalisation of political space in Malaysia under Abdullah has been done more by sheer personal force of his conviction. And what is lacking is the institutionalisation of this freedom. That’s where we talk about things like amending laws, coming up with councils, coming up with commissions. Unfortunately, to be honest with you, this issue is unpopular within Umno. Umno doesn’t like free press. Many people in Umno blame our present political predicament on freer press. We talked to Umno members, they said, why is the television showing this and that? They’ve not come to terms with this open environment. And that’s where I’d like to offer myself as somebody a little bit different. I think the people who are standing against me have come up on records saying they don’t agree with reforms to the judiciary, they don’t agree with proposals to strengthen the ACA to become a more independent commission. I’d like to bring a slightly different voice to Umno. I want to say that these issues are very important to the public. No man is an island and no political party exists onto itself. We must talk to the public. We must reach out to the public. And by the public, I don’t mean just the traditional Umno strongholds in the rural areas for which development is very important. I’m talking about the urban areas, the young people, who are talking about freedom, good governance, building institutions. So, I’m offering myself as this candidate who is talking about these things. People are saying, why are you talking about this? People in Umno don’t care about these things. But I’m trying to tell them that people outside of Umno care about it and we must send a message that candidates vying for top positions in Umno are talking about this. Because, then they will say at least somebody is talking about it in Umno. Otherwise they will say nobody is talking about these reformist measures in Umno.


So, when you talk about the media, you know I’ve been consistent from day one. I’ve said there must be freedom and we must institutionalise this freedom. Of course we have also to safeguard, as you all know, that will protect the multi-ethnic character of the society, make sure we respect one another, etc. We must strengthen the judiciary to make it more independent. We must strengthen and make the ACA more independent. These are issues that I feel strongly about and they are part and parcel of what I bring to my candidacy of Umno Youth. It doesn’t matter if people say these things don’t sell in the Umno Youth race but I’ve got to say it because nobody else is saying it. If you are contesting for Umno Youth leadership, you are not just speaking to the party, you are speaking to the country. And if I can’t speak to the country on what I believe in, then I’m not doing myself any justice and also to members in the Youth.


Going back to multiracialism, the Rulers have come out with a statement. What do you think?


I think the Rulers are very concerned that in the past year, there have been many attempts to discuss, in the name of openness and free speech, certain things which, for the Malays, they feel are very sensitive. For instance the role of Islam, the position of Islam, Article 153 which enshrines certain privileges for the Malay community. And I think it was done in a manner that was not respectful of Malay sensitivities. Of course you have some Malays attending these talks or forums but many others outside question the need for this? Why must you talk about things that they feel encroached on Malay sensitivity, Malay privileges, Malay position?


My view is that the Rulers have come out with a reminder that there are certain things which are sacrosanct in this country. And it’s not that we are giving a long list of things that are taboo. The position of the Rulers, Article 3 about Islam as the religion of the Federation, Article 153, and also this amorphous thing called the social contract. You know the social contract is not written, not codified, but everything that binds us together. The Constitution, the Mageran, the Rukunegara – this is all the social contract. The social contract was not just the so-called bargain before independence. It evolves. The social contract is dynamic but it was rooted in the first agreement between the Alliance leaders – Tunku Abdul Rahman, Cheng Lock, Sambanthan and all, saying, okay, we got to come together, citizenship rights, etc. And then it evolved on to Tun Razak’s time. But the Rulers said there are certain things within that social contract which have already been agreed to, tak payah nak ungkit lagi, you don’t have to revisit it. But, what I do believe as a young Malaysian today is that I wholeheartedly respect the position of the Rulers. It’s very important to say these things are sacrosanct.


However, ... we need a contemporary articulation of the social contract. That is something very important because the context in which the social contract was initially agreed to and evolved in the first 10, 15 years of Malaysia after Merdeka is no longer there. You have non-Malays, my age, my generation, who were born here. Their parents were born here, they are second, third generation, maybe even fourth generation, especially if they are Peranakan – six, seven generations. To them, there is no context of an immigrant society because they are Malaysians. They were born here and feel very strongly about Malaysia. And for Malays as well, some of us still feel very strongly about historical baggage. But some of us said we don’t need this kind of things, we don’t need the privileges anymore. And so they forget the historical context. So we need to come together to re-articulate the social contract so that my generation can understand it, so that my generation can own it. It’s important for every generation to own the social contract. Because, if you have no sense of ownership over the social contract, then it is just something that is passed down, that you take for granted.


You think it is a good idea for the Umno Youth leader to accept a cabinet appointment?


I’m not entirely decided on this question because ultimately the issue of government membership is the sole prerogative of the prime minister. I am not presumptuous enough to say the Umno Youth leader should be in government or not. If the PM wants it, who are you to say, ‘I don’t want it’ or if the PM said, ‘I don’t want you’, who are you to say, ‘I want it because I’m Ketua Pemuda Umno Malaysia’? We have to respect certain institutions of governance and conventions of the government. One of the conventions is, which I think is very important, the PM’s prerogative, he’s the boss.


Last question. What are your chances of winning?


Well, I’ve said I’m the underdog candidate today, it’s not going to be easy, but I have to persevere. There is no giving up. Once you say you want to go for it, you go for it until the end. Alang-alang menyeluk pekasam, biarlah sampai ke pangkal lengan (if you are going to dip into the fish-tub, you may as well thrust your arm in up to the elbow).


The following questions from the Khairy Jamaluddin interview were edited / deleted from the print edition of theSun due to lack of space.


Just before election, the political climate was really not helping to make the non-Malays to vote for BN and I think after the election, things are almost as bad. Like the Malays constantly talking about the need to unite and holding congresses to say so and the non-Malay parties in the BN talking about leaving the coalition. What is happening?


I think after the elections, the bottom fell out of our society. Many people disregarded a lot of things which I think are still important --- some even say sacrosanct in society. People talking about other ethnic groups, encroaching into other ethnic groups’s rights. And it goes both ways. Malays into non-Malays and vice-versa. And that has led to this feeling where the centre isn’t holding anymore, things are falling apart. And when that happened, traditionally BN has always been there to bring things together. So I really think the most important thing today is for BN to strengthen itself. Not just Umno, MCA, MIC in parts. It has to be a complete and integrated strengthening of the alliance itself. If you do so in isolation, it doesn’t mean very much in the overall context of BN. So, when you said people saying Malay NGOs, Hindraf, Chinese component parties - grassroots saying MCA and Gerakan not being treated very well in BN. So there is this sense of disappointment, of not being able to see the actual strength of power sharing anymore. Now what you have is everybody wants everything for themselves . And this is Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim’s problem, really. The problem with Anwar is that, back then he was guilty of double-speak. He said one thing here and said something else here.


You mean when he was in BN?


When he was in BN and in his initial stages of his career as an opposition leader. But now he’s been saying basically the same thing everywhere. But unbeknown to most people, he’s saying something and each different ethnic community thinks that they are going to get the most. So to the Malays, when they listen to Anwar, they said, okay I’m going to get the most because Anwar is still talking about Malays. Although he’s not talking about NEP, he’s saying that I’m going to help the poor Malays, not the elite Malays, not Umno Malays. With the Chinese, they said if Anwar comes into power, he’s going to do away with the NEP, it’s going to be good for us. With the Indians, with his affinity towards Hindraf, Makkal Sakhti and all that, they said I’m going to get everything. So the danger with Anwar is that people think they are going to get everything. Whereas, in BN and in the real world, nobody gets everything. Nobody wins every single thing. If you win, then you get partly what you asked for, that’s good, because it’s not a zero-sum game. It cannot be zero-sum game. There must be something for everybody. So to me the danger with Anwar today is that everybody expects the most, that they will get everything. And this is going to be a recipe for some grave disaster in the near future.


Maybe all he wants is to be PM?


Of course. To him, all these things are instrumental. He wants to be PM. He wants to have power. And why would PAS and DAP, which still until today remain ideologically and completely incompatible, still be together, still try to work together, against all odds? The only glue that’s keeping them together is not really Anwar, but this very distant ray of light of power that they can see. They’ve tasted power in five states. So, they think to themselves, whatever I think about DAP, whatever I think about PAS, I am going to grin and bear it through whatever it is that’s going to happen because I can see, the end point being, real power at federal level.


What are you chances of winning?


Well, I’ve said I’m the underdog candidate today, it’s not going to be easy, but I have to persevere. There is no giving up. Once you say you want to go for it, you go for it until the end. Alang-alang menyeluk pekasam, biarlah sampai ke pangkal lengan (if you are going to dip into the fish-tub, you may as well thrust your arm in up to the elbow).


You think the BN can be reinvented, restructured, rebranded or reconstituted into a formidable force again, in time for the next general election?


I think so, because BN has history on its side. We have real respect among one another. Of course, I feel disappointed that the level of cooperation within BN is still not at a level which is consistent. We come together during election, but when it’s not election, we seldom meet, we seldom do things together. Umno does its things, MCA does its things, MIC does its things. But then we have once in a while the convention, by-election, then we come together-lah, terhegeh-hegeh kita datang Barisan Nasional, you know. But the level of multi-ethnic camaraderie within BN is still lacking. It is as though we only come together for electoral purposes because we are part of this pact, the same coalition. There is no genuine feeling of a shared destiny, of a common future. That’s something we have to change and I feel very strongly about that. So, in Umno Youth, I’ve been very consistent from the beginning, I said Ketua Pemuda Umno is also Pengerusi Pemuda BN. That’s why I said I’m contesting not just as a Malay, but as a Malaysian. And I don’t want to make a mistake that this is a contest just for the hearts and minds of Umno Youth members. This is actually a contest for the hearts and minds of all Malaysian youths. And if you get that right then I think you can bring about something different in future.


It’s a tough vision. Anyway, the parties are talking, Gerakan for instance is saying that it is difficult to come together with a kind of one-party esprit-de-corps. It is difficult when you are made up of different racial components parties. That’s why Gerakan and some other people are talking of one multiracial party, the BN as one party. But you seemed not too keen about it.


I told the press at the Gerakan Youth AGM I don’t think any idea is a stupid idea at the moment. We have to be open and receptive to all ideas. But, personally I said, maybe the idea of a single party is premature. And maybe something that is not realisable today because obviously ethnic parties still play a big role in the way that people think, in the way people aspire towards certain things. But there are other mechanisms strengthening the secretariat. I think Pak Lah said direct membership into BN. I think a lot people don’t want to join the component parties but they want to join directly. These are things we can talk about. I think there is a convention coming up in February that PM announced. That’s the right place for us to talk about this new direction for BN, for how we work together. But, no matter how you did it structurally, you hit the nail on the head, it’s the esprit-de-corps. And that esprit-de-corps today, is missing. We come together because there is something to do, election. But we must come together not because of election, we must come together because there are shared principles. There may be disagreements on education policy, economic policy, redistribution of justice, the role of vernacular schools -- but there must be some principles that we hold dear to. Mungkin dulu we never articulated the principles. We just said BN is power-sharing. There is the Rukunegara, but Rukunegara is very broad and general. We need to drill down on certain principles, on economy, on education, on politics, on religion, on ethnic issues -- and how we resolve these things. So, we need to come together based on certain principles. That might be something we need to think about ahead of February.


Source: The Sun

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