After 20 years as Umno Youth permanent chairman, Datuk Khalid Yunus is not defending his seat in the movement this time around. The 61-year-old shares his views on how the movement has evolved over the two decades and offers tips on what it takes to be a good chair, writes SHAHANAAZ HABIB.
TO Datuk Khalid Yunus, Umno Youth has moved from stage to stage under the five chiefs since he became permanent chairman 20 years ago.
He reckons that the movement was at a “vocal and articulate” stage when led by Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim and then by Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak.
Anwar, he says, is a great orator and Najib has style. “Anwar has his thinking. He did his job well; there’s no denying that.”
Khalid, who was in the Youth exco with Najib, says that from the early days everyone could see Najib’s mettle.
“There was a difference in quality. Najib was young and wise,” he adds.
The stage changed when Tan Sri Rahim Tamby Chik took over the helm in 1993.
“Under him, the movement was rather dormant and not vocal. These were troubled years,” says Khalid.
Rahim had won the Youth chief’s post by a slim majority, and was forced out of office shortly after due to allegations of his involvement with an underaged girl. He was cleared of all charges and reinstated but lost in the next elections to Datuk Zahid Hamidi.
According to Khalid, the “troubled years” of the movement continued under Zahid.
Khalid was chairing the assembly when Zahid made the controversial speech on cronyism in 1998.
“My immediate reaction was there would be trouble. Why use that term? What was he trying to prove?”
Although the speech was controversial, the floor did not respond at once, says Khalid.
“The delegates didn’t really understand what it was all about. They did not catch the main focus of the speech.”
Then Umno president Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad and several senior leaders responded angrily to the speech. Soon after, Zahid resigned because of intense pressure from his own exco team.
“If not for that speech, Zahid could still be the Umno youth chief today. Nowadays, you seldom hear the word cronyism,” notes Khalid.
He believes Umno Youth is at the “correction stage” now and he sees its present leader, Datuk Hishammuddin Tun Hussein, as a results-oriented person.
“He is more focussed on getting results rather than talking unnecessarily. He is giving the members the right guidance.”
Yes, the movement has changed, says Khalid.
“In the past, we were very free. Anyone could stand up during the Youth assembly and raise a resolution. Those days, the Youth were critical of everything – assemblies were fiery.”
Khalid was part of that fiery debate. In 1976, when he was a delegate at the assembly and Umno Youth had proposed a resolution defending Datuk Harun Idris (who was charged with corruption), he stood up and shouted in support when most seemed reluctant.
“These days everything is arranged, including the speakers and their speeches,” he adds.
Khalid, a supreme council member, admits he prefers the free atmosphere of debate of the past assemblies where delegates spoke from their hearts and not from prepared text.
He points out that these days the freedom is guided. “The idea is noble. It is to ensure that the assembly can be executed in an amicable manner and we don't want unnecessary problems.”
The plus point is that the debate tends to be more factual – “backed with data” rather than emotion.
Speech from a prepared text will not be as interesting as off-the-cuff. So, one of Khalid’s duties as the chair of the assembly has been to make sure that delegates remain interested.
“The chair has to know how to create the right atmosphere, when to crack jokes and how to get people to listen when a delegate is speaking monotonously.
“When there are differences in thinking and ideas between the exco and the floor, there’ll be lots of exchanges. But that is what makes the assembly lively,” he quips.
Over the years, Khalid has learnt to understand the body language of delegates. He has even read books like How To Handle Difficult People and How to Influence People to pick up tips on dealing with tricky situations.
“If you mishandle delegates, there will be trouble. They will shout at you, criticise you and say all sorts of things. And never argue with the delegates because they’ll ‘kill’ you.”
An important skill for the chair is the ability to defuse a potentially explosive situation by managing to strike a balance and being able to get the delegates to agree without animosity.
Khalid recalls a difficult situation he had to handle in 1993, when Umno first used computers for its elections.
After a delay, Khalid was handed an envelope containing the Youth election results from then secretary-general Datuk Mohamed Rahmat (Tok Mat) and was waiting for an appropriate break to announce it.
“Before I could open the envelope, Tok Mat took back the envelope. The delegates saw this and were suspicious and clearly unhappy.”
Later, another envelope was produced and Khalid made the announcement. Rahim had won the Youth chief’s post by a slim margin and delegates disputed the results.
“But I made it clear that this was the official and final result.”
Shortly before the Umno general assembly last year, permanent chairman Tan Sri Sulaiman Ninam Shah passed away. Khalid has decided to move up and contest that post.
To the new Youth permanent chair, he gives this advice: “Be friendly and accommodating. Respect the delegates and never confront them. Be reasonable and they will be reasonable to you in return.”
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