On bleachers, an unlikely fanbase builds for Umno’s Khairy

Khairy Jamaluddin

(The Star) – For years, Malaysian politicians have been seeking to capture the country’s burgeoning but apathetic youth group aged between 20 and 35, without success.

Umno’s Khairy Jamaluddin however, may have snagged the attention of this most precious voter demographic, drawn to his youth, athleticism and open, unvarnished love for English football club Manchester United.

“He is… known as the cool minister. He knows what to say… especially on Twitter and he certainly knows his target audience that he can win,” Aysha Rizuan, a producer with Fox Sports Network, told The Malay Mail Online.

Aysha, who has a following of more than 30,000 fans on Twitter, pointed out that the youth and sports minister knows very well how to tap that support by being “cool” and knowing “what to say”.

The absence of an “athletic” leader among the opposition Pakatan Rakyat (PR) coalition has also boosted Khairy’s standing among not only young football supporters but sports fans in general.

“The people are supportive of KJ, especially the young ones… we (will) never support FAM,” said Sham  Khalid, one of the leaders of Ultras Malaya, a hardcore supporter group that follows the national team and has a following of more than 6,000 fans nationwide.

“You see other politicians like Najib, he puts on a Manchester United shirt. But Khairy is known to be athletic… plus you don’t have young leaders in Pakatan who are the same,” added Sham.

Acolytes of the beautiful game told The Malay Mail Online that their fascination with and respect for the Kuwait-born, Oxford-educated Khairy, or KJ as he is fondly called by fans, began over half a decade ago, and long before the 38-year-old was appointed to his current Cabinet post.

Football aficionados long grown disillusioned towards the Football Association of Malaysia (FAM) but drew heart, admitting to being bowled over by the then-Umno chief’s bold overture in standing up to the leadership of the sport’s local governing body serious clout.

And this support is particularly strong among the younger followers of the beautiful game, who now make the bulk of those who pack the local stadia for domestic league and national matches.

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak has also sought to tap this unknown voter demographic  previously.

Using football as a campaigning platform to woo younger voters in the run up to the 13th general election, Najib had tweeteds of himself in a Manchester United kit and even organising a “bros” get-together session to watch a live telecast of a match at his official residence in Putrajaya on October 19, 2011.