Nov 12, 2006

Khairy back in spotlight

(The Star) LIKE it or not, Umno Youth deputy chief Khairy Jamaluddin will find himself back in the spotlight at next week’s general assembly.

Two years ago he was booed when he catapulted to the Youth’s number two post uncontested when no one – not even the very senior members in the movement – were willing to take on the son-in-law of the Umno president.

At last year’s assembly, he made an impressive turnaround.

A year of good, hard work with the grassroots won him their hearts and minds – and he was warmly applauded and cheered.

This year, Khairy is in an unenviable position.

The reason?

Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, who has come out with his guns pointing at the current leadership and administration, has put the 30-year-old Khairy in the line of fire.

The former Umno president and prime minister of 22 years had alleged that the famous son-in-law was all too powerful and influential, and even interfered with government business.

People with business proposals, he claimed, had to see Khairy to get approval – even though the Oxford graduate held no government position.

When questions were raised about ECM Libra’s acquisition of government-linked Avenue Capital Bhd, Khairy promptly sold his entire 10.2 million shares in ECM Libra for 65sen per share, suffering a loss of RM200,000 in so doing.

This, he said, was because he did not want the company’s reputation to be affected due to some quarters questioning the manner in which he bought the shares.

Khairy, married to Nori, the only daughter of Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, was also the brunt of gossip.

At an Umno Youth division meeting three months ago, Khairy had to dispel rumours that he was involved with actress Maya Karin.

He also ran into a spot with the MCA Youth wing not too long ago over his comment that if Umno were weak, non-Malay political parties in the Barisan Nasional would take advantage, and make demands.

So while the affable Youth chief Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Tun Hussein will probably deliver – as always – a “safe” address without rocking the boat on Tuesday morning, it is Khairy’s winding-up speech at the end of the day that people will be waiting for.

Khairy is a polished speaker. The question is whether he will address the questions and attacks against him. Or will he ignore the criticisms and just move on?

This will depend largely on what the speakers say during the assembly.

Khairy: It is his winding-up speech at the end of the day that people will be waiting for.
“I think the Pemuda will be rational. They may speak passionately but I don’t think they will boo Khairy or chase him out of the hall,” said Youth secretary Datuk Abdul Rahman Dahlan.

“He’s okay with all the divisions. He is collateral damage, only a bystander (in the Dr Mahathir’s attacks).”

To Abdul Rahman, the Dr Mahathir issue is probably the single most important issue for the party at the moment.

“It is unprecedented. There are leaders going for each other’s throat over it,” he said.

While all Umno Youth divisions have pledged unwavering support to Abdullah as party leader, some have stood on opposite poles with regards to Dr Mahathir.

When Dr Mahathir renewed his attacks against Abdullah after their meeting before Hari Raya, a Youth chief from Terengganu called on the former president to quit Umno, and the Kepala Batas Youth chief called for him to be stripped of his posts as advisor to Proton and Petronas.

This riled the PJ Utara Youth chief enough for him to call for a press conference to defend Dr Mahathir – only to postpone it at the eleventh hour because the Umno supreme council was meeting that very day to discuss the matter.

Tension was somewhat defused when the supreme council decided that no action should be taken against Dr Mahathir. But emotions remain high.

Umno Youth has pledged not to gag their speakers – but told them they must maintain decorum.

“Differences in opinion are normal. It is to be expected. Speeches may be passionate but there should be no name-calling,” Abdul Rahman said.

“Criticisms can be made in a dignified manner. People can do it in all sorts of ways – through kias (metaphors), pantun, sajak, syair (forms of poetry), for example.”

Another famous son in the Youth exco, Mukhriz Mahathir, will also be closely watched at the assembly.

He has understandably jumped to the defence of his father a number of times. He has repeatedly said that the questions his father had asked were not being answered.

With Dr Mahathir still recovering in hospital after a mild heart attack, speakers might go slow on bashing the former leader. But will they go easy on Khairy?

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