Of gutter politics and the folly of hotheads

POLITICAL gossip-mongering has gone into overdrive, reaching a fever pitch.

Dormant WhatsApp groups have been given a new lease on life, high school or hobby chat groups have taken a sudden interest in gay videos, and so on.

It’s an odd combination of nobody wanting to be here, and everyone relishing being here.

The latest in the saga is Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim releasing a formal, written media statement in which he clarifies that he disagreed with the statement of one Farhash Wafa Salvador Rizal Mubarak.

The latter had earlier said that Datuk Seri Azmin Ali should step down from his post, should the evidence concerning sex videos that have been circulating be found to be overwhelmingly against him.

Anwar’s statement was somewhat unexpected.

While most news portals describe Farhash as Anwar’s political secretary, some PKR insiders seem to say this isn’t the case. The position was also not mentioned when Anwar referred to Farhash in his statement.

Close followers of his political journey over the years may not be surprised at the degree of ambiguity and lack of clear structure when it comes to Anwar’s staffers.

Positions, can at times, seem fluid, informal, and/or positioned vaguely between official and unofficial.

It also would not be surprising to find such staffers claiming to hold one position or another without having any kind of black-and-white to back it up.

This may have been slightly more viable in older days, but in our age of constant Internet scrutiny, perhaps a more structured, formal approach would be appropriate for the man who would be Prime Minister.

Whatever Farhash’s position and/or role, it seems a little odd and out of place for Anwar to have released such a statement. The action of doing so means that one of any number of things has gone wrong – possibly all at the same time.

Firstly, if your “political secretary” or “aide” or whatever he is, has said something that is so contrary to your own position as a political leader that you have to publicly contradict him, then there has been a massive breakdown in communication, discipline, or both.

Secondly, if the response to such a statement is to immediately release a contradictory statement, it betrays a certain ... anxiety.

It might have been more understandable if it was merely a response to a reporter’s question that was picked up by the press, but a future Prime Minister should be able to discipline his own staff (and perhaps compel him to retract his own statement), rather than respond via the media as if he was an equal of some sort.

It might have made ever slightly more sense if say Farhash was a parliamentarian – like Anwar himself – making the comments in his capacity as an elected representative.

As it is, perhaps the whole thing should have been considered beneath someone of Anwar’s stature to reply to.

As the crisis is prolonged, more and more political cracks are beginning to show. One news portal even ran a story in which it described even Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia as having pro- and anti-Anwar camps.

At this rate, other that will have pro- and anti-Anwar camps will be Parti Sosialis Malaysia, Parti Rakyat Malaysia, Parti Cinta Malaysia, and goodness knows who else.

When it comes to determining the puppet masters behind this entire sordid ordeal, the suspect generally needs to have the right kind of motive, the right kind of opportunity, and the right kind of character.

Anyone in Anwar’s camp could be construed to have the motive, since Azmin is seen as one of the biggest factors that might prevent Anwar from attaining his “destiny” of becoming Prime Minister.

There may be people who prefer that the next Prime Minister not come from PKR at all. This might be sufficient motive for many different suspects to generate all sorts of destabilising rifts within PKR.

As far as opportunity goes, there are a few things to note. First, it is still within the realm of plausibility that the video was taken by someone other than the people in the video.

Screenshots of text messages can also obviously be faked. When it comes to the phone conversation, obviously it’s nearly impossible to verify who is speaking. Unless it is a completely manufactured conversation however, it almost certainly had to be recorded by one of the two people talking (whoever they are in reality).

The only likely alternative would be the police or some such authority recording the conversation via a phone tap or such. Any other third party doing the recording without the knowledge of either of the two men talking could only do so by overcoming extremely daunting technological challenges.

The other debated question of opportunity concerns access to the phone numbers of all the people the video was sent to. Available information might thus point to individuals or parties who have access to databases of PKR members, such as high ranking leaders or those in Anwar’s circle.

Perhaps the most relevant (albeit subjective) question is: who has the character to do this?

Conspiracy theorists who think that Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohammad is behind this can hardly be blamed, given that he is closely associated with exactly this type of character attack. Some might contend that he has the most “experience” with such things.

As far as Anwar-oriented PKR elements are concerned, my own entirely personal view is that most of the movers and shakers in PKR do not have the appetite for this particular brand of politics.

The only ones within this camp that may have the character and inclination to stoop to this level in an attempt to “protect” Anwar are the slightly younger men who tend to crowd Anwar, vying for his favour and attention.

Such aides could perhaps be described as having somewhat feudal mentalities, generally lacking in professional experience outside of politics, and being known to be hot-headed (to the point of some physical altercations, apparently).

In summary, it takes a very certain type of stupid to engage in this type of dirty politics. Sadly, politics is not an industry in which stupidity is in particularly low supply.

None of this has very much to do with the actual veracity of the video. There are many who believe that it hardly matters whether the video is real or not. The wider Malaysian public may or may not agree.

Former minister Tan Sri Rais Yatim wrote a Facebook post in which he implied that Azmin’s accuser revealed who egged him on to reveal the entire alleged affair, and that revealing the identity of said person would shake Malaysian politics to the core.

It is impossible to say whether what Rais is saying is true or not. If it is, let us hope that the authorities reveal as much of the details as possible as soon as possible, because Malaysia deserves more than being dragged longer and longer though this mud.

Let’s not forget, meanwhile, people are literally dying in Kuala Koh. It is clearly time to reassess our priorities.

NATHANIEL TAN is director of media and communications at Emir Research, a think tank focused on data-driven policy research, centred on principles of Engagement, Moderation, Innovation and Rigour. The views expressed here are entirely the writer’s own.

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