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Feb 19, 2008

The Truth About Khairy Jamaluddin



Son of the gun - P Ramlee…Abdullah Ahmad Badawi is legally the fifth Prime Minister of Malaysia, having taken office in November 2003. However, even before he assumed office, it was quite clear that Abdullah Badawi was not his own man – that all his thoughts, actions and deeds were heavily influenced, if not directed by his then 28-year old son-in-law (now 32), Khairy Jamaluddin, and his coterie of friends. While some talked of the three Ks being the power behind Pak Lah, namely Khairy, Kalimullah (the Group Chief Editor of the New Straits Times) and Kak Endon (Datin Paduka Seri Endon Mahmood Ambak, wife of the Prime Minister), there is no doubt that the first K is the most powerful, having appointed the second K to his post and having married the third K’s daughter at a time when the third K was and is fighting breast cancer, an illness that has already claimed the third K’s twin sister.

The signs of discontent are quite clear. The person who perhaps is most wary of Khairy is former Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad. While Dr Mahathir himself at first warmed to Khairy and his friends, appointing for example Khairy’s bosom buddy from Oxford, Dr Vincent Lim Kian Teck, as his second Chinese political secretary, he eventually found Khairy an overbearing presence upon Abdullah. But at that time it was already too late. Mahathir had announced his retirement and Abdullah Badawi was the heir-designate. For whatever bad that Mahathir had done, he knew he could not afford to change his mind on the succession after the crippling failure of the removal of Anwar Ibrahim.

Mahathir at last realised that he had stepped down in November 2003, the most powerful man in the country, only to be replaced by a 28-year-old. Khairy is now and for the near future the most powerful man in the country. Even more so than Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, Najib Tun Razak or anyone in the UMNO Supreme Council who are mere tadpoles in Khairy’s big pond.

Here is how he influences decisions that affect you and me.

First, Khairy is the main gatekeeper in Abdullah Badawi’s office. No letter, fax, proposal, document, appeal, communication, correspondence or presentation lands onto Abdullah’s desk without first going through the screening of aides Datuk Wan Farid and Zaki Zahid. Both Wan Farid and Zaki Zahid act as Khairy’s eyes and ears. When any proposal comes through to them, they immediately make copies for Khairy Jamaluddin. Copies are necessary because Khairy is no longer officially with Abdullah’s office. Yet, official or not, he is still the gatekeeper and needs to see all that comes to Abdullah’s office.

Wan Farid and Zaki Zahid together with Khairy also vets the appointment list to see Abdullah. In spite of the existence of the post of Chief Private Secretary held by Dato’ Thajudeen Abd Wahab (a long-time Abdullah Badawi loyalist and civil servant), those appointments made through Dato’ Thajudeen’s office inevitably get copied to Khairy and get vetted by him. Make no mistakes. Though Dato’ Thajudeen is annoyed by this unorthodox arrangement, his long-time friendship with Abdullah is not strong enough to overrule his boss’ son-in-law.

Of course it is not cheap to get an appointment to see Abdullah. The gatekeepers also act as toll-collectors. And UMNO is rife with mutterings of dissatisfaction, due to the high price (some say up to RM50,000) exacted by people close to Abdullah merely to secure an appointment with the Prime Minister. While this “custom” has always existed in varying degrees throughout the rule of all five Prime Ministers of Malaysia, it has never been so thorough and blatant as it is now. This is because payment of RM50,000 alone is not sufficient to secure an audience. There must also be promises of involving some of Khairy’s companies in eventual projects if such audiences are to be successful.

Some may argue why this happens in spite of Abdullah Badawi’s image as Mr Clean. But that image is merely a perception. Compared to other ministers Abdullah is relatively clean, but this was not because of want of trying. Abdullah was in charge of ministries with little “opportunity” to exact “tributes” such as the Ministry of Youth and Sports and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and for many years he was out of the government. His political position as a former Tengku Razaleigh–Musa Hitam supporter was always very precarious and Abdullah Badawi was too fearful to drink from the poisoned chalice of corruption.

However the situation has now changed. Abdullah Badawi is all-powerful as Prime Minister and relies on Khairy to prop up that position. Khairy Jamaluddin knows that it is not long before Pak Lah will be challenged by Najib or anyone else backed by Dr Mahathir. Thus he must make hay while the sun shines.

The second method by which Abdullah is controlled by Khairy is through Khairy’s insistence on appointing key personnel at the decision-forming level within Abdullah’s office and also in other powerful ministries. No less than ten of Khairy’s friends from his university days who are all in their late twenties or early thirties currently occupy posts equivalent to chief executive in many of the ministries (more will be detailed in later parts of this report). Abdullah Badawi cannot function if these figures do not function. In other words, he is completely reliant on their actions.

For example, let us say that Abdullah goes for a foreign trip to Venezuela for a trade mission. The person who prepares the itinerary is a Khairy appointee (a fellow ex-student from the UK). He submits the paper to Khazanah’s Director of Investments (another Khairy appointee) for discussion. It is discussed with people from Ethos Consulting (a Khairy-related company) and finally gets approved by a meeting of Foreign Ministry civil servants which willy-nilly is often attended by Khairy himself in spite of him having no official position in government. When Abdullah comes back from Venezuela, discussions with President Hugo Chavez is discussed with the private office of the Prime Minister (headed and made up completely of Khairy’s appointees) and decisions are made by Abdullah Badawi after a night’s discussion at home with Khairy himself. Little wonder that Khairy Jamaluddin has such an extensive control on Abdullah – and this was exactly how the Venezuelan trip of the Prime Minister took place!

Thirdly, Khairy Jamaluddin controls Abdullah Badawi through his insistence on exerting his unofficial role as the Prime Minister’s closest advisor. An incident that took place in the foreign ministry shows it all. A meeting was called by Minister Syed Hamid Albar. It was a top-level meeting, a briefing to the Prime Minister in a closed session. In attendance were the Prime Minister, the Minister, the Deputy Ministers, the Secretary General of the ministry and his deputies – and Khairy Jamaluddin, at that time neither in the Prime Minister’s office nor holding any official post. Syed Hamid insisted that the meeting be closed to Khairy. Abdullah demurred, partly out of fear that if Khairy was not in the room he would be ill-advised. So Khairy stayed. Such a situation shows not only how strong Khairy is, but how weak Abdullah can be.

Therein lies the danger of Khairy Jamaluddin. He is an unelected person within the government, yet his influence outweighs that of the whole cabinet; even that of the Deputy Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak. As long as Abdullah is in power and Khairy is married to his daughter, Khairy Jamaluddin will continue to be the actual ruler of Malaysia. Whether knowingly or not, democracy in Malaysia has been reduced considerably since Khairy Jamaluddin came to the fore and there is no longer any check and balance within the government.
Surely the people of Malaysia should know about the phenomenon of Khairy Jamaluddin since their lives now so much depend on it. Malaysia Today will chronicle the rise of Khairy, how he influences UMNO and the government, name his allies and enemies and how he interacts with them. More importantly, Malaysia Today will try to lay bare the mystery of Khairy and identify the tentacles he uses to reach for power…


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