It has been a whirlwind experience for political novice Datuk Mukhriz Tun Mahathir. The man dubbed a rising star in Umno politics talks to MERGAWATI ZULFAKAR about his political highs and lows and whether he aspires to a higher position in Umno Youth in 2007.
FOR an avid diver, Datuk Mukhriz Tun Mahathir has a clear and fair complexion. By his own admission, he has not been able to indulge in his passion because of his hectic schedule over the last few months.
It has been an emotional ride for him.
Just five months ago, Umno Youth chief Datuk Hishammuddin Tun Hussein had called him up to ask him to become involved in politics.
He was naturally hesitant at first. His first few attempts to become politically involved had not met with his father’s approval.
“Two years ago, the Kubang Pasu Umno Youth division invited me to hand over football jerseys but my dad got to know about it. He asked so many questions, so I knew I had to back out,” Mukhriz said.
“Hishammuddin spoke to my mother first. When I told him it was not possible because my dad was not keen, he said that had been settled. He said he had spoken to my dad and I asked what his reaction was.”
Obviously, the reaction Hisham- muddin got from the former prime minister was positive, so Mukhriz almost immediately said yes.
One week after securing the highest number of votes in the Umno Youth exco elections, Mukhriz is still on a high.
He credits his father for his victory.
“Everywhere I went, the first thing that people told me was that they are so grateful to my dad. Many of them said they would not be where they are now if not for his policies. So it is a direct benefit for me.
“They don't know how else they could repay this so-called debt. Of course, no one owes him anything but they felt they wanted to repay him somehow.”
Doesn’t he as a politician think that he won on his own merit?
The soft-spoken Mukhriz doesn’t think so.
“It is too soon. People do not know me well enough. I do not deny that people know me because of my dad.”
While Tun Dr Siti Hasmah Ali was ecstatic with his win, Dr Mahathir was, as Mukhriz described it, “his typical self.”
“I called them that evening and he asked what I got. When I said top spot, the next question was how many votes. I said 694 votes. He said all right. That was it.”
Despite the seemingly cool reaction from his father, Mukhriz truly values the elder statesman’s opinion.
The political path has not been smooth for Mukhriz. In his first try for the Kubang Pasu division youth chief’s post in July, he lost by nine votes, which was a surprise since he had been frontrunner with the most number of nominations from the branches.
But his fortunes changed quickly. He received the highest number of votes to be elected to the division committee a week later.
“My interpretation is that the veterans in the division empathised with me because of their link with my dad. The young guys are looking for something new. I was not around for them. I came in at a very late stage.”
As a budding politician, Mukhriz is also having his fair share of rumours.
When he went campaigning for Barisan Nasional during the recent Kuala Berang by-election, a makcik to whom he had been introduced as a son of the former prime minister had an interesting query.
“She asked me: ‘which one is your mother?’ I was flabbergasted. I told her I only have one mother.
“It was quite funny, and she was quite embarrassed. I suppose people hear all sorts of things.”
Mukhriz’s wife, Datin Norzieta Zakaria, who was present at the interview, said she was surprised with her husband’s win. “I really did not believe it with all the rumours that had been circulating.”
To this, her husband explained that when Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim was released, there was talk that it might affect his chances and he, being Dr Mahathir’s son, would be targeted.
“There were elements within Umno that are very much aligned to him and this was the talk that went around because I represent the old administration. Obviously it was just talk and Anwar is not a factor any more,” Mukhriz said.
This marketing graduate of Boston University said he was raring to get cracking. High on his agenda will be education and economy of the Malays.
Mukhriz has been active in non-governmental activities through his involvement as president of Mara Junior Science College Ex-Students Association (Ansara) since 1993.
He is continuing what he has been doing over the last decade, except on a different platform now
“I will not give up Ansara. It is a bonus because of the ready-made network and platform. But through Umno, it is amazing that within a short span of time I have made many friends.
“These are the people I did not know before and they went out of their way to pass the word around. I am grateful to them.”
In fact, he is already planning to go round with several exco members to personally thank Youth members for their support.
Mukhriz, who turns 40 next month, will only have one term to serve as a Youth exco member.
Barely 24 hours after his win, the rumour mill was abuzz with talk that he would go for the Youth chief’s post in three years’ time.
“Yes, I have heard about that. To me, I can only prepare for the position that I am going for.
“I have been focused on the exco position. When people asked me why I didn’t go for number 2, I said I am not ready. It was never my intention. Why should I change course midstream?”
But is he closing the door totally?
“No, I am not closing the door, I suppose. What worries me is not the contest but what happens before and after. I have to see in the next three years what kind of experience I acquire, whether I am going to mess up or not.
“In Umno, they are unforgiving. I am very aware of that and I don’t plan to make a mistake. In the end, I have to assess myself to see whether I'm up to any particular post. If you ask me now, my answer is I am not qualified, I have no experience just yet.”
He looks forward to working with Hishammuddin and the new vice-youth chief, Khairy Jamaluddin.
“I have known Khairy since he was six. We are friends and I felt bad for him when he was booed at the Youth meeting.
“I would like to emphasise the co-operation we are going to have rather than whether we are going to be a threat to each other. It worries me when I talk to people and they are saying the same thing.
“I don’t see it that way. We know each other well enough. We are going to work together and so many good things will come out of it.”
Mukhriz, who is father to two daughters and one son, is finding it more difficult to spend time with the family, but he has their blessings.
Mukhriz said his entry into politics was not a surprise. “It is as if my siblings and I have inherited a pre-programmed DNA that requires us to contribute to society. And from what I hear from people, my dad is pleased with me.”
And that is a good enough endorsement for Mukhriz to pursue his political career.
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