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Should KJ sign up with Gerakan?
Just another scenario around the traps
Khairy Jamaluddin, or KJ as he is known, has been talking to suitors over his political future. PKR and DAP are not suitable due to the personalities involved. Bersatu want KJ to contest in Negeri Sembilan in the coming state election, where KJ would prefer Selangor. There is even talk he will form a new political party with his old colleague, former prime minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob.
However, according to sources inside Gerakan, KJ is being discussed by some of the party leadership to take on the role of chief minister candidate in the coming Penang state election. Further, the Gerakan leadership also talked about fast-tracking Khairy to the presidency of the party, with the national congress coming up on June 18. Current president Dominic Lau, has expressed some willingness to step aside for him.
Dominic Lau just announced Gerakan will contest around 30 seats in Penang, Kedah, Selangor, and Negeri Selangor. Judging from Gerakan’s electoral performance in the last general election, many believe most will lose their deposits. Dominic said Gerakan’s main objective is to help Perikatan Nasional (PN) secure victory in the coming elections.
Khairy came into politics through his father-in-law Ahmad Abdullah Badawi, when he was deputy prime minister. KJ became Badawi’s principal private secretary in 2003, but left to pursue private interests, due to criticisms by Mahathir Mohamed at the time.
This didn’t stop KJ rising through the UMNO party machine, where he became deputy chief of the UMNO youth wing, and a tight context with Mukhriz Mahathir.
In 2008, Khairy was elected to the parliamentary seat of Rembau, Negeri Sembilan. Soon after, he became chief of the youth wing. Under Najib Razak, Khairy became the minister of youth and sports, bringing in the biggest haul of medals, during his stint.
After the Sheraton Putsch in February 2020, KJ was appointed minister of science, technology, and innovation, under Muhyiddin Yassin. He became the coordinating minister for the national Covid immunisation rollout. His performance was praised by many, although in some quarters there were criticisms.
A casualty in UMNO president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi’s quest to rid UMNO of those who oppose him, KJ lost his endorsement of the Rembau parliamentary seat in 2022, and was allocated the ‘unwinnable’ Sungei Buloh seat, a PKR stronghold. KJ fought hard bringing a 26,634 majority in 2018, down to 2,693 vote majority.
Not having any parliamentary seat led Khairy back to radio where he joined Top FM. Khairy, along with a number of other prominent UMNO members, was sacked from the party in January this year. Until now Khairy has been silent upon his political ambitions.
Khairy, although he has been involved in a number of scandals is not tainted, and through his political career has shown himself to take up progressive issues, particularly freedom of speech. There is a certain amount of charisma around KJ, which he used to his advantage in the Sungei Buloh election. His current radio spot is keeping him directly in touch with the electorate.
The Gerakan leadership have been warming to the idea that KJ would be a potential asset to revive the ailing fortunes of Gerakan. Gerakan has long lost its reputation for being a grassroots action party, and has been electorally shunned by what was once their traditional supporter based in Penang and Perak. Many are displeased in the ‘unholy alliance’ Gerakan has entered into with PN.
If Gerakan is to survive and become relevant once again in politics, the party must merge its reform image, develop a more multiracial image, and project itself as the moderator within the PN coalition. That’s not an unsimilar position, the MCA played in the days the Barisan Nasional was at its height.
Alternatively, Gerakan could break free from PN and rebuild itself from the bottom once again. Many in Gerakan believe this is a reason to introduce new blood into the party.
There are not too many people who could perform that role. KJ is one of them, who could excel at this. KJ could change the face of Gerakan, and as leader would shift the perception of Gerakan being a Chinese based party, to being a multi-racial party. This in itself would broaden the appeal base for Gerakan. Gerakan could potentially be competitive in mixed race electorates.
If KJ took up the offer, there would be a number of challenges ahead for him.
The first would be the coming Penang state election. Its do or die for Gerakan. There is little doubt that the DAP led ‘unity alliance’ in Penang will win government. However, if PN can win between 6-14 seats and become a credible opposition, and Gerakan win a couple of seats, the party would be saved.
The most seat for KJ would be Sebarang Jaya, a Malay majority seat on the mainland, currently held by PKR. If Khairy could win that under the banner of Gerakan, it could change the fortunes of the party. Frankly, without Khairy, Gerakan’s prognosis for any electoral success would be next to nothing. Khairy would be able to draw attention towards Gerakan that the party couldn’t get anywhere else.
This would put Khairy and Gerakan in a good position for GE16, PN will be competitive, and has a probability of winning government. Gerakan would add electoral utility to PN. If PN did win government Khairy would no doubt become a senior minister.
This is a tough scenario, very difficult to achieve. However, such a challenge would suit KJ well. He would inherit and carry the Gerakan brand and lead the party to a new chapter.
The Gerakan leadership would invest in personality politics, by putting a ‘celebrity’ in the front. They hope KJ would go beyond being just a personality, and deliver the substance for the party. This would create a hybrid-Gerakan, relevant to the political scenario today. However, all involved must learn the lesson from MUDA. A high-profile personality, without any substance and policy is a recipe for electoral disaster.
Gerakan must take that risk or perish. For KJ, it would be crash through or crash. He can handle that type of politics as well as the best of them. The Gerakan offer may be much more appealing than any Bersatu offers, or setting up a new party himself.
The Gerakan scenario requires the determination Khairy has shown he has got. If he can do it, then Gerakan could become a third multi-racial force with parliamentary representation. KJ knows both the Bersatu and PAS leadership. He has worked before with them. Many may consider voting for Gerakan in future elections, just because they are a potential force of moderation.
It will be interesting to see if KJ takes up the challenge.
Originally published in My Sin Chew 29th May 2023