Sex, lies and videos: Politics, Malaysian style


THIS week, Malaysians woke up to another sensational political scandal.

It began when Umno supreme council member Datuk Lokman Noor Adam lodged a police report over three video clips showing a man resembling a male politician engaged in sexual acts with another man.

This other man then came forward in a video confession posted on his Facebook page, claiming this male politician was none other than Economic Affairs Minister Datuk Azmin Ali, who has denied the accusation.

The one confessing was Muhammad Haziq Abdul Aziz, 27, the private secretary to Deputy Primary Industries and Commodities Minister Datuk Seri Shamsul Iskandar Mohd Akin.

If Malaysians have a strong sense of deva ju, it's understandable. Wasn't engaging in “unnatural sex” used against PKR president Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim twice?

The latest sex scandal echoes Anwar's second sodomy case. On June 28, 2008, Anwar's former aide, Mohamad Saiful Bukhari Azlan, 23, made a police report alleging that he had sodomised him in a condominium two days earlier.

Anwar was charged and went through a long legal process that ended when the Federal Court upheld a High Court decision that found him guilty and the five-year prison sentence.

Anwar went to prison and was only released after Pakatan Harapan won the 14th General Election in May last year, and the new government secured a royal pardon for him.

It is indeed very interesting how illicit sex seems to rear its head whenever Malaysian politics get rough.

The current scandal is unfolding in a way that seems a tad perfect, like it is following a script. It is uncanny that a video camera was conveniently set up in the hotel room and how the clips were released with police reports made and then quickly followed up by the “confessional” video.

Azmin has issued a statement condemning and denying the incident. He has urged the police to investigate to clear his name.

For now, the public is probably quite undecided who and what to believe. Technology is so advanced, it is easy to make up and manipulate such video content to make it look very authentic.

But there will others who may think there is no smoke without a fire.

Being caught in illicit sex has long been the bane of public figures, especially politicians, around the world.

American columnist Steve Chapman, in an opinion piece entitled Why adultery is political suicide, said: “Sex without marriage is OK. Sex in violation of marriage is not. Why not? Because adultery, unlike a frisky bachelor lifestyle, connotes a reckless dishonesty at odds with our basic notions of integrity.

“Because it shows a lack of respect for the most important commitment that most of us will ever make. Because it indicates that the adulterer will always place his selfish desires above those who depend on him.”

Elizabeth Abbott, author of A History of Marriage and A History of Mistresses, however, has a different view. She is quoted in a nationalpost.com article as saying: “We act as if (the cheating politician) cheated on us.”

The article goes on to say “it is ‘silly’ to think a politician who cheats on a spouse will also cheat voters. Not only is infidelity too common to exclude those who do it, but sex and politics are distinct spheres of behaviour — one intimate, private and emotional, the other public, bureaucratic and dominated by advisors.”

Indeed, in Malaysia extramarital affairs aren’t so deadly to political careers. We have seen a few bounce back after the exposure and humiliation.

Instead, the twist in the tale is to catch a married male politician in bed with another man. That seems to be the weapon of choice to bring down male opponents in Malaysian politics.

And it seems particularly deadly to Muslim leaders. I asked former MP and political commentator Mohamed Tawfik Ismail why that is so.

“These days, religion is getting more important than culture or adat (tradition). If adat was more important, you wouldn’t do this to another Malay.

“Muslims expect very high standards from their leaders because in Islam, such behaviour is absolutely prohibited,” he says.

Yet it remains to be seen if the public and the Malay community believe that Azmin is really the man in the videos. And even if it is indeed proven that he is innocent, can he recover?

One might think yes. Anwar, despite being tarnished with two sodomy convictions, managed to make an incredible comeback and is now seen as prime minister-in-waiting.

But the difference between Azmin and Anwar, according to Tawfik, is that the charismatic Anwar built a strong, even rabid, following. His supporters stayed faithful, and he was backed up by a loving and united family who kept fighting for him over the years.

“Azmin doesn’t have that. He doesn’t have that kind of aura or iconic status as Anwar so he may not be able to survive,” says Tawfik.

So this sex scandal can either be a bad road bump that could derail Azmin for some time, or completely snuff him out of the political race.

Azmin denounced the incident as “nothing but a nefarious plot to assassinate my reputation and character in an attempt to destroy my political career.”

His press statement goes on to say: “Judging from recent political developments, this is clearly the latest in a series of concerted attempts over the past few months to vilify me.”

We all can agree that someone is out to get Azmin and is deviously using the tried and tested “unnatural sex with a man” method.

But is Azmin really the target or he is only part of an even larger political plot to remove not just him but others?

Speculation is rife as to who the mastermind is, and what the endgame is. We keep watching with bated breath.

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