QUESTION TIME | It took a sex video to push the simmering differences between PKR and Harapan leader Anwar Ibrahim and PKR deputy president Azmin Ali - the latter of whom is speculatively favoured by Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad to succeed him - and cause the pot to boil over rapidly and spill some of its contents.
So heated did the problem become that Anwar waved an olive branch that he did not need to and conceded that Azmin was not the person in the sex video, when the police have not actually cleared the latter yet. The police only said that the two participants could not be identified so far by facial recognition software.
This is a clear demonstration of disunity within PKR and Anwar’s tenuous position within the Harapan coalition, despite him being its de facto leader under that unwritten pact within the coalition whereby Mahathir became interim prime minister while Anwar is the prime minister-in-waiting.
With Azmin’s clear demonstration that he is prepared to abandon Anwar in favour of Mahathir, it is nothing less than a strengthening of Mahathir’s hand in terms of finally deciding who will succeed him. This is because there are PKR MPs who are prepared to abandon Anwar in favour of Azmin/Mahathir, although the numbers are not clear.
But as long as DAP stands steadfast in supporting Anwar and his multiracial approach to solving problems - in contrast to Mahathir’s Malay unity and ketuanan above all else - and Umno and PAS continue to be unfriendly towards Mahathir, neither Mahathir nor Anwar will rock the boat too much and risk death by drowning.
The chances of Anwar succeeding Mahathir remain quite bright, provided the parties supporting both sides - and Azmin - remain logical at all times and remember what they fought for together all these years, especially those within PKR and the promise of reform which this party has stood for from day one.
But Mahathir has managed very well to divide and rule by successfully driving wedges between Anwar and Azmin within PKR and between DAP and PKR by shrewd appointments of Azmin as economic affairs minister and Lim Guan Eng as finance minister, without consulting Anwar or PKR.
One hopes that the reins of power do not corrupt the ideals of individuals and parties to such an extent that they are prepared to abandon long-standing alliances and shared ideals in favour of ascending to power quickly, even at the expense of splitting their parties.
One other thing that Mahathir has managed very well in the past is the state investigation apparatus. He continues to hold these in his hands by making the appointments to all key positions without consulting his coalition partners.
The actions of the police in investigating the Azmin video has been suspect, to say the least. Despite the police saying that they have identified the video as genuine, meaning that it has not been tampered with, they still can’t identify positively those in the videotapes. This raises questions as to why they could not take the necessary steps to obtain expert views as to the identity of the sex video participants.
The focus has been on the people who distributed the tape, but not sufficiently on who were in the tapes, which is important too, for homosexuality remains an offence in Malaysia, and public opinion is influenced substantially by whether a person is homosexual or not.
Inspector-General of Police Abdul Hamid Bador indicated bias when he said that a leader of a political party is the mastermind behind the “wicked pact (pakatan jahat) to embarrass and tarnish the reputation of a certain individual”. However, he did not mention any names, needlessly raising speculation as to the identity of the conspirators.
“The video, circulated with the aim of raising concern among the people, was produced (dihasilkan) by those paid hundreds of thousands of ringgit,” he said in a statement.
A minor PKR politician, who has since been sacked from the party, claimed to be one of the participants and repeatedly alleged that the other person in the video is Azmin.
He and a few others, including an Anwar aide, were picked up and detained for questioning, again raising speculation as to who was responsible for filming and distributing the tape, and the possibility of Anwar’s involvement himself.
Anwar had raised Azmin’s ire, when, replying to a question at a news conference, he said that Azmin should resign from the cabinet if it was proven that he was the person in the video. Some of Azmin’s supporters, including MPs and state assembly representatives, said Anwar should not have said that, even though it was heavily qualified.
Azmin then asked Anwar to look in the mirror, an indisputable reference to the latter’s own past when he had been accused, charged, convicted, and subsequently pardoned for two sodomy offences.
While Anwar, in hindsight, should have been more circumspect, all he was doing was answering a question which was on everybody’s mind.
Overall, this has been quite a charade and it would be better all around, perhaps, if this matter is laid to rest with the police investigations and all politicians refraining from engaging in gutter politics in future.
But tellingly, it indicates the extreme fragility of unity within PKR, largely because many of the MPs who are cabinet ministers and deputy ministers feel that they owe their position to Mahathir and have been aligned with the Azmin camp within PKR.
The lamentable thing about this is that many of PKR’s commendable ideals lie by the wayside in the relentless push for individual power, influence, money, status and ambition and jostling for the same, making enemies of long-time friends and allies previously united in a common cause in the wake of GE14.
Someone needs to remind them all that they need to pick these up if they are to function as effective, responsible representatives of the rakyat and what they voted for, or risk betraying Malaysian aspirations. If they don’t, they may come in for some punishment at the next polls.
One hopes that Malaysians have better long-term memories than short ones.
P GUNASEGARAM says that, to some extent, we get the government we deserve. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.