DEC 16 — When Khairy Jamaluddin goes into enemy territory on Saturday to match wits with Pas' rising star Husam Musa, he will be looking to score more than just a few political points.
A rank outsider in the battle to win the top position in Umno Youth in March, he will be trying to use this platform to raise his profile and send a message to Umno Youth members that in him, they have a politician who will not be afraid to confront the enemy face to face in an unfriendly setting and debate on a range of issues.
The forum “Transformation of Politics in Malaysia” is organised by Kelantan Pas and will involve discussions on the transition of power and issues related to the Federal Constitution. Besides Husam and Khairy, Professor Dr Abdul Aziz Bari and Associate Professor Dr Mohammad Agus Yusoff have also been invited for the session in Kota Baru.
Khairy has been going against the tide in his bid to become the Umno Youth chief since he announced his candidacy several months ago. The son-in-law of Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, he has been hit by the perception that he will not be able to deliver the goods to party members and will not have influence once the transition of power takes place.
The current No. 2 in the Youth wing managed to snare 52 nominations, coming in third behind Datuk Mukhriz Mahathir (75) and Datuk Mohd Khir Toyo (62).
Anecdotal evidence suggests that Khir has emerged as the frontrunner in the last few weeks with his door-to-door campaigning and reach. Mukhriz has also earned the plaudits of his party men for suggesting that Tamil and Chinese schools be integrated under the umbrella of the national school system for the sake of national unity. This controversial proposal has created outrage among non-Malay politicians, with MIC and MCA urging that disciplinary action be taken against the son of Malaysia's fourth prime minister, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad.
But within Umno Youth, Mukhriz is a hero of sorts. The reason: he dared to make public what many Umno politicians have been talking about behind closed doors. His refusal to back down also went down well with Umno politicians who feel that the non-Malays have been become too vocal and demanding since March 8.
Saturday will be Khairy's turn to audition for support from party delegates. He and Husam have clashed publicly over a range of issues over the past few years. Ironically, both of them have felt the sting of criticism from within their own parties for the same reason.
Pas politicians and members have complained that Husam's political rise owes much to the support of the party's spiritual leader Datuk Nik Aziz Nik Mat while some Umno members believe that Khairy would not have shot up the political ladder so fast if not for Abdullah.
Since of late, Khairy has been trying to persuade Malaysians and party members that he is a politician of substance; someone who cares not only about Malays but Malaysians; someone who has the common touch as well as the intellectual prowess.
In an interview with The Star, he said: "I would like to see Pemuda Umno becoming a truly national movement. Of course the first agenda will always be the Malay agenda. There is no running away from that. But we need to go beyond that and have a broader and inclusive outlook. Pemuda Umno must be representative of Malaysia and the Malaysian view. We need to be able to pull not only people who are on the fence, but also those in the Opposition. We are not doing that now. We are too close-minded, narrow and too elitist.''
The rebranding of Khairy Jamaluddin will continue on Saturday.