Thursday, March 26, 2009

Khairy as future leader?

Khairy as future leader?
Fri, Mar 27, 2009
my paper

Analysis by Woon Wui Tek

AS SON-IN-LAW and confidant of a supposedly-unpopular premier, Khairy Jamaluddin was thought by some to have no hope of taking the Youth chief post in Malaysia's Umno polls.

He stunned observers with a hugely symbolic victory on Wednesday night, seeing off strong challenges from a son of former premier Mahathir Mohamad and a former Selangor menteri besar.

The youngest Youth chief, at 33, now holds a post traditionally a springboard to great things.

The incoming Umno president and premier, Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak, is said to have preferred Datuk Mukhriz Mahathir - even using a phrase, "dare to change", in his speech that was also Mr Mukhriz's campaign slogan. Mr Khairy was also singled out for a warning letter over money politics.

Still, it is hard to see Mr Najib refusing to name him as a Cabinet minister, as is traditionally done. How powerful the post is is a different matter.

As Mr Khairy goes about ascending the power ladder on his own steam, he must ensure the Youth wing does not fracture.

Though he had the advantages of incumbency as deputy Youth chief, he won only a plurality of votes after a fierce tussle.

His No. 2, Datuk Razali Ibrahim, is not linked to any faction and handily beat a candidate who was, like Mr Khairy, one of the "fourth-floor boys" who advised retiring premier Abdullah Ahmad Badawi - and became a lightning rod for hatred.

"Khairy's win was an upset, and there's a big question mark over whether he can hold the youth movement together," political analyst Khoo Kay Peng was quoted as saying.

But the Oxford graduate - despite recent moves to play to the conservative Malay base - is believed by many to be a moderate at heart. If he can tack to the centre without losing his base, he may just be what's needed as Umno strives to regain the support of non-Malays who deserted the once-invincible coalition it leads.

Mr Khairy is also sensitive to today's Internet-savvy electorate.

He gave extensive interviews to often-critical online media during the campaign and spoke out against a decision to ban the online media from Umno proceedings.

It has long been said that he sees himself as a future prime minister. His father-in-law can no longer protect him. But, if he can make himself the indispensable leader - bridging races, generations and even Umno factions (yes, that's a lot of "ifs") - the sky could well be the limit.

After all, Mr Najib was also Youth chief once.

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