Khairy: S’pore prepares for political succession, while M’sia’s Anwar & Mahathir uncertain
Khairy Jamaluddin feels it is important for Anwar Ibrahim to become prime minister.
Khairy Jamaluddin, Malaysia’s ex-minister for sports and youth, said the political climate in Malaysia is uncertain.
Speaking to over 650 attendees at the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute Regional Forum 2019 in Singapore, he said this sense of uncertainty was having a negative impact on Malaysia’s economy.
The main reason for this? The rise of “identity politics” in Malaysia.
“The Malay heartland is feeling threatened. Rational, manufactured or otherwise, this is real,” said the Umno member, who also cautioned about the end of the election euphoria.
Singapore prepared for succession, Malaysia less certain
He cited the big protest rally against the ruling Pakatan Harapan’s proposal to adopt the UN International Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination as an example.
However, another reason for uncertainty was Mahathir’s age.
Khairy told the attendees at the Shangri-La Hotel: “We have, whether you like it or not, a 93-year-old prime minister.”
For contrast, Khairy referred to the recent succession plan done by the People’s Action Party in Singapore.
Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat was recently voted the 1st Assistant Secretary-General by the PAP, which is seen as as a signal that he will succeed Lee Hsien Loong as prime minister.
“Even Singapore prepares meticulously for succession because it realises that it is important to demonstrate continuity,” said Khairy.
While Anwar Ibrahim has been named as Mahathir’s successor as Prime Minister, Khairy said that nothing was certain.
He poked fun at the “last time” Anwar was slated to take over from Mahathir, which ended in the two falling out.
Anwar should be the next Prime Minister
However, Khairy conceded that it was “important” for Anwar to become prime minister of Malaysia, for two reasons.
“Yes. I think he should be prime minister,” he said.
First, he joked that if Anwar missed out again, we would never hear the end of it.
“He cannot move on, and Malaysia cannot move on,” said Khairy.
More seriously, Khairy said that Anwar was the only man who would be able to hold the PH coalition together, given its broad nature and competing interests.
“He speaks the language of modernity and the language of tradition,” said Khairy. He believes Anwar could meet the challenge of Malaysia’s identity politics.
“Azmin is not senior enough to do that,” added Khairy, referring to Azmin Ali, the economic affairs minister.
Azmin is seen by some to be leading an anti-Anwar faction within the Parti Keadilan Rakyat, Anwar’s own party.
What BN needs to do to win
Aside from discussing his political opponents, Khairy also spoke at length about what his own party, Umno and the Barisan Nasional coalition needed to do to improve.
Reform was a theme that Khairy returned to a few times.
He rejected the idea that Umno and the BN needed to formally ally itself with PAS, the Islamist party, in order to win the next general election.
Instead, he advocated a strategy of regaining the “middle ground” in the Malay heartlands.
In fact, Khairy believes that is the main reason why Mahathir is accepting the defection of several Umno party members into his own party, Bersatu.
“(It) speaks to more than just a nefarious plan to deny Anwar the premiership,” he said.
Instead, Khairy believes Mahathir is accepting these ex-Umno members in order to shore up Malay support, and reassure Malay voters that the PH is “strengthening the conservative Malay core”.
However, Khairy said that there was “no threat” of another wave of defectors.
In addition to party strategy, Khairy advocated general reform within the Malaysian political system.
He said that he proposed a new primary system in Umno, so that candidates would be chosen according to their popularity on the ground, instead of how close they were to the party leader.
Khairy also addressed campaign finance reform, mentioning the fact that Umno was one of the “richest” political parties in Asia.
He wanted legislation introduced for party funding so that political donors will be registered. This information would be made available to the public.
Instead of discouraging people from donating, Khairy believes that this would encourage openness and honesty, as people would be able to discern if the party in power was acting unfairly based on donations.
“I think more sunshine on party funding is better,” he said.
Top image courtesy of ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute.