Khairy can’t shake off allegations of vote-buying

(The Straits Times) KUALA LUMPUR, April 18 — There are a few words that repeatedly come up whenever people describe Khairy Jamaluddin. Brash. Ambitious. Intelligent. Cocky.

In a relatively short political career, the son-in-law of former premier Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi has become one of the most controversial figures in Malaysian politics. Once dubbed “Malaysia's most powerful 28-year-old”, he was arguably also the country's most disliked politician at one time.

Khairy, 33, rose to prominence as the speechwriter of Abdullah when the latter was deputy premier. “KJ”, as he is more commonly known, then became Abdullah's son-in-law when he married his only daughter Nori in 2001. The couple now have two sons.

His political career soared correspondingly, as he secured the post of Umno Youth deputy chief in 2004, and then was elected as an MP last year.

But the Oxford graduate, who was in the former PM's inner circle, was often painted as an impatient upstart riding on his father-in-law's coat-tails, and a man who wanted to move up the ladder fast.

That image was cemented by the persistent rumour that he had said he wanted to be prime minister by the time he was 40 — an allegation that he has denied.

So when the ruling Barisan Nasional suffered heavy defeats in the general election last year, the knives came out fast. While Abdullah shouldered the blame, Khairy was accused of having an undue influence on his father-in-law.

And when Abdullah announced that he was stepping down as PM, many predicted the end of KJ. Yet, against all odds and despite lagging behind for most of the race, Khairy won the powerful Umno Youth chief post last month.

Allegations of vote-buying, however, continue to hang over him. The Umno disciplinary board investigated him in the run-up to the polls, but let him off with a warning.

When new PM Datuk Seri Najib Razak announced his Cabinet, Khairy's name was conspicuously missing, although the Umno Youth chief post traditionally comes with a Cabinet spot. Rumours are also circulating that the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission could be charging him soon.

But KJ has shown that he can combine smarts with a hardy will to survive, and it could be too early to write him off this time.