Two controversies beset Malaysia in this last week or two. One involved the deaths of multiple Orang Asli in Kelantan, and the other involving a sex video.
I suppose the tragedy of our times is not that the latter received more attention; the tragedy is that the fact that it did will probably surprise no one.
Waging a war of attrition means looking to inflict maximum damage and losses all around, instead of finding the quickest ways to realise strategic objectives and achieve victory.
Exposing sex videos would appear to be a tactic in this vein.
It isn’t entirely clear who ‘benefits’ from this entire affair; what is clear is that it is dragging us all into the mud, in a sordid race to the bottom.
In response, Malaysians seem to have let out a collective groan of exasperation, frustration, and disgust. “Are we really back here again?” seems to be the question of the day.
Khairy Jamaluddin is right to say that this affair is “downright filthy”, and “stinks to the high heavens”.
Of course, this is the same Khairy who was ordered by the courts to pay Anwar Ibrahim RM150,000 as a result of making a suggestive statement about “main belakang”. It is Syawal, however, so we shall perhaps take it on good faith that some people are able to evolve and grow.
In any case, Khairy and others have all repeated quite sufficiently by now the importance of standing on moral high ground and rejecting this brand of politics – well and good.
A person’s personal life should be his or her own business, whatever their job.
Where politicians are concerned, and integrity is an issue, perhaps the only question is whether or not they have a proclivity to lie in public.
In this matter, the case of Chua Soi Lek is instructive. When his sex video came out, there was – to the shock of many – no indignant denial, or any attempt to deflect attention.
There was simply a confession, and an unconditional apology. He almost came out with a better reputation than he had before the entire incident.
In any case, such videos are almost never 100% conclusive as far as evidence goes. Fans of the politician will go to their graves swearing on his innocence, and detractors will go to their graves swearing the opposite. People generally believe what they want to believe.
Perhaps more relevant to the nation than the veracity of the accusation, is the identity of the masterminds of this entire incident – if indeed there are such masterminds.
Political circles talk about little else, and the general public is not far behind.
The issue is particularly hot because it is tied to the elephant in the room of Malaysia’s political future: who will be the next Prime Minister?
While sex videos have no real place being the subject of serious public interest, this question certainly does.
This is not because the nation’s entire future hinges on which individual becomes Prime Minister; this is because the lack of stable clarity on this question encourages various titans to engage in all out war to secure the post for themselves, along with all its attendant wealth and power.
The fight looks to be especially bitter given the fractured nature of Malay-based political parties (Harapan, notably, consists of no less than three Malay-based splinter parties). With no clear leviathan, everyone will be going all out for pole position.
This results in something like a particularly brutal TV barfight, where we may not be able to predict who will win, but we can be pretty sure that the bar (basically representing the rest of us) is going to be pretty trashed by the end of the fight, with no end of collateral damage.
And so the speculation goes on. The two main contenders appear to be Anwar Ibrahim on one side – as agreed upon going into GE14; and Azmin Ali, backed by Daim Zainuddin on the other.
Occam’s Razor thus suggests that it is Anwar or his associates that have the most to gain from exposing the video, which is certainly a possibility. The timing introduces the possibility that this is some sort of “retaliation” for the appointment of Latheefa Koya as MACC Chief Commissioner.
It doesn’t really seem to be their style though, and one gets the impression that PKR people are also scrambling around trying to figure out who exactly was behind this expose.
One could speculate that it is Umno aligned forces at play as well, looking to simply engineer chaos, without really caring how it gets resolved.
The more conspiracy minded might even point to Tun Mahathir Mohammad, speculating that this is perhaps a move to kill two birds with one stone – leaving neither Azmin nor Anwar as the next Prime Minister, but perhaps someone closer to himself.
Of course, we can’t forget Mahathir’s almost instant dismissal of the video as fake – a slightly strange move which may compromise the credibility of any independent investigation into the video’s authenticity.
Now that the accuser has been arrested, some may even point to the Prime Minister’s comments as having influenced the investigation, which is highly problematic.
In any case, all this is of course mere speculation, almost on the same level as self-indulgent gossip.
For all the firm evidence we have (or, more accurately, lack), the accuser involved in the video may be acting entirely on his own, for personal motivations (although, the manner in which the videos were spread suggests that this is unlikely as well).
Ultimately, instead of getting dragged around endlessly in such lowbrow politics, would it be too much to ask that political leaders react to this scorched earth policy/ war by scandal by doubling their efforts to solve the other problems that really matter?
A less than stellar economy, lagging institutional reforms, environmental issues like Lynas and imported plastics, the Orang Asli deaths in Kelantan – these might all be excellent places to start doing just that.
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.