The KJ factor in vice-presidents’ race 

Will there be a game change in the Umno vice-presidents’ contest now that Youth leader Khairy Jamaluddin has thrown his new-found clout behind Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Tun Hussein?

Joceline Tan, The Star 

KHAIRY Jamaluddin was still flushed from his victory in the Umno Youth contest when he joined Umno vice-president Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Tun Hussein at an event in Kuala Lumpur.

Hishammuddin used to be Khairy’s boss in the party’s Youth wing but Khairy has become some sort of superstar after his spectacular win and the former boss is now turning to the former deputy for help.

The Youth and Sports Minister had turned up at the event billed as Rangkaian Sahabat (network of friends) to lend a boost to Hishammuddin’s campaign for a second term as Umno vice-president.

The word is that Khairy has thrown his weight behind Hishammuddin.

He has reportedly sent out word to his boys on the ground to support the Defence Minister.

Khairy made a spirited speech at the event, lauding Hishammuddin as a friend of the youth generation.

He also reminded the audience of how, in the political turmoil of 1998, Hishammuddin had to take over a fragmented Youth wing.

The then Youth chief, Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, had been forced to step down while both the wing’s secretary and information chief had quit the party.

He credited Hishammuddin, who was Umno Youth chief from 1998 to 2009, for keeping the wing intact and for steering it back to calm seas.

This could very well be some sort of turning point for Hishammuddin, who has been struggling against all sorts of public perception about him.

A minimum of five delegates from each Umno branch will be voting for the VPs and supreme council this Saturday.

They will comprise the branch head, the Wanita, Youth and Puteri branch heads plus one delegate for every 50 members in the branch.

In other words, delegates from the Youth wing will make up about 10% of the votes.

Hishammuddin might just make it with support from Khairy and the Youth.

“Before this, Mukhriz was seen as the one representing the young people among the VP candidates. With KJ supporting him, Hisham now has the youth lobby,” said an Umno Youth official.

Khairy is playing a rather strategic game. It is no secret that he and Datuk Mukhriz Mahathir are bitter rivals. Their rivalry is complicated by the role that Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad played in the premature exit of Khairy’s father-in-law Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi.

It is not just about who moves up faster but it is also about settling old scores.

Helping Hishammuddin will, in some ways, check Mukhriz’s advance in the VP contest.

Some have claimed that the landslide wins by Khairy and Datuk Seri Shahrizat Jalil are an indication that the Umno ground is moving in a conservative fashion and that they are not in the mood for change.

They claimed that if this mood persists, the three VP incumbents will be retained.

But according to publisher Datuk A. Kadir Jasin, Khairy and Shahrizat’s victories are less about the ground going with tradition than the fact that the challengers to the Youth and Wanita leaders were either lightweights or had little credibility.

“It was more about people putting up a challenge for the sake of a contest,” said Kadir.

The challengers were what many in Umno described as “sure lose” and Umno members are not into losers. They like to go with the winning horse.

Kadir pointed out that a real contest would resemble the one in 2009 when Khairy was up against Mukhriz and Datuk Seri Dr Khir Toyo. That contest involved three big personalities with their own strengths and whom delegates felt were worth taking sides for.

The VP contest, on the other hand, is not about three incumbents being challenged by three nobodies.

The incumbents (Zahid, Hisham­muddin and Datuk Seri Shafie Apdal) as well as the challengers (Mukhriz, Datuk Seri Mohd Ali Rustam and Tan Sri Mohd Isa Samad) are well-known personalities with their own track records and niche support.

And that is why the incumbents are not taking anything for granted.

They know that the Umno grassroots want to see them in the flesh, hear their voice, see them smile, touch their hand and have tea with them.

The personal touch is very important. One campaigner said that when he went around on behalf of a minister, delegates asked why the minister had not come himself. They told the campaigner that so-and-so came the other day and hosted a gathering with dinner thrown in.

The campaign rules are very strict but those with resources and creativity know how to get around it.

Those with Cabinet positions have been hosting a string of programmes in the name of their portfolios but which are thinly-disguised events to touch base with the delegates.

One of the VP incumbents has taken out so many full-page advertorials about his ministry’s projects and programmes that some are asking whether it is government money or his own money that is being poured into all those ads.

These are still early days but many in Umno view Khairy and Mukhriz as future Prime Minister material.

It is just too bad that they are rivals rather than partners but politics is often about the survival of the fittest.

Their rivalry can only add to the thrill and excitement of the VP race.

All eyes, inside and outside Umno, will be on who among the six will make it into Umno’s VP echelon.