Thursday, March 01, 2007


Khir faces up to the challenge
Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Dr Mohd Khir Toyo has never looked fitter or healthier, which is just as well because managing Selangor is sometimes like running 18 hours a day on the treadmill.

DATUK SERI Dr Mohd Khir Toyo’s new look is no longer that new. But it is still the topic of discussion wherever he goes.

He has been asked whether he used botox, had undergone dermabrasion and even if he had plastic surgery done. Some people would peer at his face trying to determine whether he had a nose job or a mini facelift.

The Selangor Mentri Besar claims it is definitely none of the above.

Instead, he said, about six months ago he decided that he needed to live a healthier lifestyle.

“One day I looked into the mirror and thought: 'I look so ugly'. I was overweight, so out of shape,” he said.

Since then, he has undergone a radical shift in his health regime.

His doctor friend recommended the blood type diet, that is eating foods compatible with his AB blood type. That means eating virtually no meats but mainly vegetables, fish and certain fruits and grains. And also special herbs for energy and bird's nest soup now and then.

He has lost about 14kg and now weighs in at about 70kg. As a result, he is trimmer, his face looks chiselled and his skin has taken on a new quality.

In fact, he looks like a new man.

It also helps that he has traded in his glasses for contact lenses, enabling better eye contact, which is important because as a top politician he meets an endless string of people every day.

“But the important thing is that I feel fitter and more energetic although I sleep only three to four hours nightly,” he said.

Still, the clock cannot be turned back on everything because his hair has grown almost completely white at 51 and his forehead looks higher than ever before.

It is good that Dr Khir is now healthier than he was several years ago. This is his sixth year as Mentri Besar and they have not been the easiest of years for this former dentist.

Selangor is the fastest growing state in the country or, as they say, it is a very happening place.

The competing demands for services, homes, industries, commerce, leisure and entertainment, better environment and so on make it difficult to manage.

On top of that, it is home to a huge middle class who are vocal about their needs and demands.

The Sultan of Selangor made no bones about his concern for development issues in his royal birthday address last December. He touched on the state of development in Selangor, the needs of the people, and what he expected from the elected representatives and civil servants. He basically asked them to buck up and deliver.

He ended his speech by saying: “I want Selangor to be a dream state for every rakyat who wants development and who loves peace.”

The message was very clear for the Mentri Besar and those in his administration.
Development – its pace, form and impact – has been both boon and bane for Selangor.

Striking a balance has been Dr Khir’s main headache, just as it had been for his immediate predecessors both of whom left under a dark cloud.

At one time, people were even talking about the Selangor MB’s seat being jinxed, even cursed.

Basically, the top post is a hot seat. No other state faces the sort of development pressure seen in Selangor.

And because of its centrality, issues that break out in Selangor tend to seem more urgent and get wider media coverage and more attention from national leaders.

Hot issues

Dr Khir has gone through and survived a number of these hot issues.
The more recent being the “illegal palaces” in Klang, flooding in Selangor and the Bukit Cahaya controversy.

These issues have affected his image, even if some were the result of him being tripped up by his subordinates and administration, and others were due to policies from the previous administration.

But what has irked him most is the way he seems to have been singled out by the media.

For more than a year now, his supporters have referred to TV3 as “TV Selangor” because of the plethora of Selangor issues highlighted by the station.

“You can't blame the MB for feeling persecuted. At one time, it was almost every night. I don't understand it because he's not a threat to anyone,” said Selangor Deputy Youth chief Faizal Abdullah.

Dr Khir said: “I'm open to criticism but the media should present balanced reports.”

Media Prima director Datuk Kamarulzaman Zainal, who oversees TV3's news and current affairs section, dismissed any notion of a political agenda.

“People in Selangor are vocal and they want fast action.

“They come to us because their letters have not been answered and their complaints not acted upon. We are merely voicing their problems.

“When I met Dr Khir some time ago, I told him it was not personal and he should take it positively. But there has been a lot of improvement and the MB's maturity has grown from year to year,” said Kamarulzaman.

But Dr Khir does not boycott TV3 and still watches the news whenever he can.

“All I ask is that people try to see these issues in the context of what we have done for the state,” he said.

And that includes, among others, building low-cost houses, resettling squatters, providing more than 20,000 jobs since 2000, and bringing in investments to the tune of RM5bil.

There has been much speculation about where he is headed since he emerged as the top Umno supreme council member in the last party elections.

Will he stay on in the supreme council or go for the Umno Youth chief post? Some suggest he may even be considering one of the vice-president posts.

He has been circumspect and often replies with the Malay saying ukur baju sendiri – meaning he is aware of his limitations and is not as ambitious as people say he is.

“I always remind myself that I come from the kampung and I have not forgotten my roots,” he said.

Those close to him say it is better to be humble and low-key than to talk loudly and be sabotaged by other ambitious opponents.

“The Mentri Besar's job is like running on a treadmill 18 hours a day. You should keep your energy for the job instead of using it to play politics.”

Dr Khir is still a rather enigmatic figure despite his high-profile job. In person, he is soft-spoken, easy-going and receptive to views and ideas.

At the same time, he is no towering intellectual nor is he brimming with cutting-edge ideas for change and advancement.

Then again, how many of our MBs are like that?

But he is down-to-earth and hardworking and has come a long way since he was plucked out from obscurity in 2000 and put in charge of Selangor.

He was a first-term assemblyman, had no administrative experience and was basically thrown into the deep end.

In that sense, he seems to have swum quite well.

But the waters have been choppy, and he will have to swim better to make Selangor the “dream state”.

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