Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Don't push your luck, KJ

THE Prime Minister's Department in Putrajaya is all astir with a recent visit there by Umno Youth chief Khairy Jamaluddin.

The murmurrings were that he had brought back the ghostly shadows of the 'the fourth floor' boys, the band of young men who allegedly were the brains behind a host of decisions made by former prime minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi.

The courtesy call on Najib by Khairy and his Youth delegation of about 40 members on Feb 17 was almost ironic for the Youth chief.

Khairy was there this time as a visitor and was no longer the iconic 'gate keeper ' to the PM's office nor head of the allegedly powerful 'fourth floor boys.'

Also, he was not visiting the office of his father-in-law now and it was the first time since being elected Umno Youth chief in March last year that he has returned to the PM's domain.

khairy-pmHowever, according to some observers, he still had the 'air' of being someone in charge at Putrajaya.

They alleged this was seen in the way he selected key people to ask the questions during their discussions with the PM.

The Umno Youth entourage had an easy passage to the PM's office where they reportedly spent about two hours, from 5.15pm, in discussions with Najib.

No strong programmes

The meeting served Khairy the opportunity to allay fears about a split in the movement, following reports that some members want him to step down as their leader.

They feel Khairy is not following Najib's 1Malaysia line and, furthermore, he has not come out with any strong programmes for the movement since becoming its leader.

It is learnt that the issue of Khairy being left out of the Cabinet was also raised at the meeting but Najib had tactfully sidestepped the matter by telling them that it was more important at this juncture to ensure the unity in Umno Youth is intact.

The PM purportedly told the group that he would use his discretion should there be a Cabinet revamp.

In his heydays at the PM's office , Khairy and his associates were said to be very authoritative in their ways, to the extent that anyone who wants to meet the prime minister had to first be screened by them.

So the story goes, if the 'fourth floor boys' were not convinced about the nature of any appointment or planned meeting with the PM, visitors to the office would not get to go to the upper floor.

The 'boys' actually were skilled networkers, with good business acumen, proficient in the Queen's English, intelligent in mobilising people for specific tasks, savvy on current affairs, philantrophic and, yes, many people also say they are arrogant and pushy.

When he took over the helm of the government from Dr Mahathir Mohamad in October 2003, Pak Lah, as Abdullah is fondly called, had told the people to "work with me, not for me."

But many of his party members were wary about the young group beneath his office that allegedly had the power to block their passage to the PM's office on the fifth floor.

4th-floorMahathir saw many failings in his successor's administration and accused Khairy, along with others, as being responsible for giving ill-advice to Abdullah.

He also accused Khairy and his 'cronies' of using their talents and close links with the prime minister to influence decisions and policies in Umno and the administration.

Delay KJ's entry into Cabinet

It is due to this, according to some political observers, that Mahathir had advised current PM Najib Abdul Razak to not admit Khairy - or, at least delay his entry - into the Cabinet.

When Hishammuddin Hussein was the Umno Youth leader, Khairy was the influential deputy who often hogged more of the media limelight than his boss.

Hishammuddin, a former Education minister, has moved on to become one of the party's vice-presidents and has also been re-designated as Home Minister in Najib's administration.

Khairy, on the other hand, is still waiting to be given a Cabinet post while two of his colleagues - deputy Youth leader Razali Ibrahim and defeated contender for the Youth chief's post, Mukhriz Mahathir - have both been appointed deputy ministers.

When Mahathir was running the country, everything centered on the fifth floor and every decision had his personal intervention.

Perhaps due to a previous stint in the Foreign Ministry, Abdullah was more diplomatic and more engaging in his ways.

He encouraged ratepayers to complain about the shoddiness of the civil service, the police and anti-corruption enforcers and had also opened avenues for his opponents to speak out against the policies of the Barisan Nasional administration that he led.

Where Pak Lah failed

This, however, was construed by his critics and political foes as being defensive, apologetic and weak. But they took advantage of the situation, anyway, to go on a bashing spree of Pak Lah, the 'fourth floor boys', the whole of the Umno and Barisan machinery and the government.

In the end, his 'openness' did not endear Abdullah to the masses as he had hoped it would.

Instead, he found he had to handle too many complaints and criticisms that he had to increasingly seek advice and counseling from those around him.

Abdullah, who gave the Barisan its biggest-ever electoral win in 2004, also gave the coalition its biggest loss four years later when the opposition pact of PAS, DAP and PKR swept the electoral board like a tsunami in the March 2008 polls to win five state seats.

The opposition coalition, later named Pakatan Rakyat, also sliced off the two-third majority in Parliament that the ruling party had enjoyed for over 50 years.

And previously strong parties like the MCA, Gerakan and the MIC are now tattered and torn and struggling hard to move back into the hearts and minds of the people.

Enter Najib, with his 1Malaysia theme, new economic module and transformation roadmap.

Perhaps, the most important milestone during Abdullah's term was setting up the massive Iskandar Malaysia economic hub in Johor and other similar exonomic corridors across the country.

His opponents, however, were not impressed and during the run-up to the 2008 general election they harped, instead, on the low financial and economic ebb that the country was facing then.

In his time, Abdullah had also tried to push his concepts of 'Islam Hadhari' and 'Towering Malaysians' but other than being noted with respect by his party members they showed little interest to promote the themes as national programmes.

Don't push your luck, KJ

Coming back to the present, Umno Youth leaders are hoping that Khairy could work on re-branding the movement to be more than just a junior wing in the Umno.

They want a leader who can spot problems in the administration ahead of the opposition and provide quick solutions to the faults that surface.

This has not been clear and Umno Youth only appear to be 'playing by ear' and reacting to emergencies than planning strategic moves to be a force to be reckoned with, like it was in the years of Harun Idris and Suhaimi Kamaruddin.

Perhaps, Khiary should forget for a while about being a minister. Maybe that's what Najib wants him to do.

Being a major influence in Abdullah's administration is not the testimonial that Najib needed for Khairy tio be considered for a Cabinet post.

The prime minister has made it clear: "Just put your act together in Umno Youth. And leave everything else to me."

Khiary should not push his luck and consider that in the run-up to the Umno Youth elections, the majority of divisions had nominated Mukhriz and former Selangor mentri besar Dr Mohd Khir Toyo.

He was not a unanimous choice and he has to work much harder than his predecessor Hihsmmuddin to win the the respect of his members and to forge unity within the movement.

If not, he can just forget the Cabinet post.

news courtesy of SHAH A DADAMEAH, who is the senior editor of the Malaysian Mirror

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