Commentary: Sex videos a weapon of choice in Malaysian politics that distract from other issues

Commentary: Sex videos a weapon of choice in Malaysian politics that distract from other issues

Are sex videos the weapon of choice in Malaysian politics, wonders James Chin.

Haziq Aziz
Screengrab of a video posted by Haziq Aziz on his Facebook. 

SINGAPORE: Mudslinging in politics is an old and commonly practised way of maliciously slandering opponents and destroying their careers.   

In Malaysia, this takes various forms, from planting fake stories, to doctoring videos and pictures, and spreading rumours and innuendos.

What has been extremely popular in recent decades is the employment of sex scandals.

Many later turned out to be fake but the initial uncertainty in these episodes seeded huge doubt about the integrity of targeted leaders and sullied their reputations.

Such allegations, even when they are proven to be false and defamatory, seem to resurface.

Part of this phenomenon reflects the power of social media, especially instant messaging platforms like Whatsapp, where rumours and innuendos can spread quickly. People love salacious drama and all too easily lap it up.

READ: Deepfakes, the future of video manipulation, a commentary

The same allegations are often repeated without the full facts, such as highlighting that the video was later found to be fake. Or a different allegation with the same narrative surrounding the named individual could surface.

ANOTHER MAJOR SEX SCANDAL

Over this past week, a major sex scandal has erupted. A video and several lewd photos of two men who appeared to be engaging in sexual acts began spreading on Whatsapp on Monday (Jun 10).

On Wednesday, senior private secretary to the deputy minister of primary industries and commodities Haziq Aziz, appeared on his own facebook page confessing that he was one of the man in the video and named Economic Affairs Minister Azmin Ali as the second individual. He claimed the video was taken on May 11 at the Four Point Hotel during the Sandakan by-election.

Azmin Ali
Malaysian Economic Affairs Minister Azmin Ali. (File photo: Bernama)

On Wednesday, Azmin Ali issued a statement strenuously refuting the allegations, calling it a “vicious libel”, and vowing to sue those behind it.

His party PKR has denounced what it calls “dirty politics”. Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad has said he does not believe the video is genuine. Anwar Ibrahim has also denounced the episode as one of gutter politics.

Yet the drama continues to be fuelled with a second video sent via Whatsapp to many journalists in Malaysia late Wednesday evening and Haziq Aziz making more allegations.

A CONSPIRACY?

Azmin’s supporters have gone on to social media to discredit the videos. They even provided a timeline which shows Azmin was somewhere else when the alleged incident took place.

The video has not been verified for its authenticity, and many in Kuala Lumpur think this is a political conspiracy - a calculated move to kill Azmin’s reputation and halt his rise up the political ladder. 

Yet that hasn’t stopped the opposition from jumping on the bandwagon. UMNO supreme council member Lokman Noor Adam told Malaysian media he has lodged a police report over the images. 

I want the police to investigate the authenticity of the videos, who has been spreading and also the actors involved.

PAS meanwhile has taken the high road to urge members to stay clear of the scandal and avoid spreading accusations.

There are high stakes involved. In a year, if the original time table is kept to, Dr Mahathir is poised to step down as prime minister and Anwar Ibrahim is set to replace him.

The proposed currency could be used for regional trade, but would not replace national currencies
FILE PHOTO: Malaysia's Prime Minister Mohamad Mahathir. (Photo: AFP)

What has this got to with the current sex scandal? Azmin is widely considered a front runner for the prime ministership if, for whatever reason, Anwar does not get the job.

FAMILIAR NARRATIVE

This is by no means the first time a political scandal has erupted over allegations that politicians have been captured on video in compromising positions.

In 2011, Anwar strenuously denied being in a video showing a man having sex with a woman said to be a prostitute. After Anwar made a police report and refuted the claims that it was him, the issue died a natural death.

Two senior politicians from Parti Islam Malaysia (PAS), Mustafa Ali and Mohamad Sabu, were targets of similar allegations in 2013 and 2011, respectively. Both denied strongly they were the person in the video and police reports were made. It was later confirmed that the Mat Sabu tape was fake.

Both survived politically and Sabu went on to lead Parti Amanah, and is now Malaysian Defence Minister.

NOT THE END

Such scandals, even if proven to be true, do not have to be career-ending episodes. There are Malaysian politicians who have survived a sex video scandal.

Anwar Ibrahim
Parti Keadilan Rakyat's president Anwar Ibrahim. (File photo: Bernama) 

Dr Chua Soi Lek, then Malaysian Health Minister and Malaysian Chinese Association vice-president, resigned in 2008 after DVDs of a sex video involving him was sold at night markets and shops in Johor and Kuala Lumpur. This case was remarkable in that Dr Chua admitted openly in a press conference that he was the man in the video.

However, notwithstanding Dr Chua’s admission and resignation, he then went on to win the MCA presidency in 2010. In fact, many in the Chinese community and the party saw his admission and resignation as a brave move given that politicians caught up in such sex scandals typically deny in the first instance.

WHERE TO NOW?

Several things will now likely occur. The police will likely be involved if Lokman has lodged a police report. They will have to track down who was behind the video and their motive. The videos will be sent analysed to check their authenticity.

Azmin’s political career will survive if the videos are proven to be fake. But the ripples will still be felt. 

Those who believe in conspiracy theories tell me the ultimate aim of whoever distributed those videos is the destruction of the reputation of both Anwar and Azmin so that neither can inherit the position of PM.

Pakatan Harapan cabinet
Malaysian ministers attend first cabinet meeting since the Pakatan Harapan coalition won the 14th general election.(Photo: Facebook/Selangor Chief Minister Azmin Ali)

Right now there is so much uncertainty in Kuala Lumpur that anything is possible.

The prime ministership is the ultimate prize in Malaysian politics and there are plenty of people who are willing to do anything to secure it.

In any case, the biggest victim is Malaysian society, as such unconstructive politics distract the government from advancing on their policy priorities.

The really interesting issue, which may go unaddressed is this: Why are such obscene sex videos seemingly common in Malaysian politics? Have they become a weapon of choice?

The short answer is that these sorts of allegations stay in the minds of voters for years to come. Even when the sex tapes are later found to be fake, the intended target will find it difficult to live down the allegations.

The social media we live in recycles information and misinformation constantly, exacerbated by confirmation bias.

In this environment, smear campaigns and efforts at character assassination have the upper hand.

This latest sex tape scandal will not be the last in Malaysian politics.

Professor James Chin is Director of the Asia Institute Tasmania at the University of Tasmania and Senior Fellow at the Jeffrey Cheah Institute on Southeast Asia.

Source: CNA/nr(sl)

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