The Umno Youth deputy chief wants to clear misconceptions stemming from ‘KJ the caricature, the larger than life image’ and has gone down to the grassroots to prove his mettle in politics.
Admitting that he is a naturally shy and strange politician, Khairy Jamaluddin is, nevertheless, determined to correct misconceptions perpetuated about him in the last three years.
You have been touted as the richest unemployed young man in the country. Is this true? How do you finance your campaign?
That label was used by Lim Kit Siang in Parliament, to ridicule me. It is an unfair comment. I run a very personalised campaign. I do not spend much, except to travel to meet people. The regulations for money politics are very clear, very stringent.
There are claims that you only managed to secure the required number of nominations due to money politics and because of that, the longer campaign period will be to your advantage.
If you look at my nominations graph, it was steady and constant. There is no quick spike and levelling off. Furthermore, the nominations came from divisions with which I have long standing relations. I told my supporters, give me the nominations because you believe in me and not because of money. We cannot condone political corruption. Yes, the longer campaign period can be an advantage to me because I will have more time to explain the misconceptions about me.
During the recent division meetings, you claimed of having been a victim of manipulation. Can you be more specific?
Some people in Umno have dedicated themselves to demonising me, smearing my character in the last thee years. I have to go out to correct this negative perception.
Public opinion about you is still low. You have also lost your advantage with your father-in-law leaving office in five months’ time. Why did you decide to aim for the Umno Youth number one post now, instead of waiting until Umno members are more accepting of you?
Because this is a democratic contest. It is not as though people are making way for me. There is a vacancy and the three of us made it through. Also, now I can prove to the people who say that when Pak Lah (Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi) is no longer around, there is no future for Khairy. I am contesting on my own strength. Whether I succeed or not, at least I know that it happened because of me.
Should you win, how would you explain that, considering the very obvious negative perception about you, besides the fact that you garnered the fewest nominations.
The general public already has a very jaundiced view of the Umno elections. Whoever wins will be accused of using money. But if I win, it is only because I have been successful in reaching out to everybody.
People say you have changed in the last few weeks. They say you are more friendly and approachable now. Your comment?
I am not aware that I have changed. I try to be true to myself. Maybe more people have come to know me better now. Maybe their view is no longer clouded by what has been said and written about me. There is this bit of misconception between KJ the caricature, the larger than life image painted of me, rather than the person that I am.
For so long you have been accused of being the power behind the Prime Minister. Do you take any responsibility for this perception?
No, because that is not true. I am saddened and disappointed with that perception. Pak Lah has been in politics for a very long time. He did not make his decisions based on what people tell him. And I never once sought to influence him. Of course, sometimes he would ask what I thought of certain things, but that is that.
You are educated and very articulate, but you seem quite awkward at socialising with Umno grassroots. Are you a shy person?
Yes, in a way. I suppose I am a very strange politician. I am naturally shy, especially among people I have just come to know. But if you give me a microphone and a thousand people, it is a different thing altogether. I am very quick to warm up to people, and do not have problems interacting with them.
But there are claims that you are not friendly with division leaders and that you sometimes totally ignore them when you go down to meet Youth members.
That is not true. I always make it a point to call division heads, if not see them personally. As Umno Youth deputy head, I am always very conscious of the need to respect the party hierarchy. It is a question of perception, not reality.
Sometimes, the programmes are very officious in the way they are structured. But now, during the campaign period, I have more time to mingle with everyone.
Do you have a preferred running mate?
I don’t have a preferred running mate per se. Both have their own strengths and vision for Umno Youth. Of course, the comfort level is different, as with any pair of individuals.
What is your vision for Pemuda Umno?
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.
Separating KJ from Khairy
Malaysia Star, Malaysia