IN Malaysia, the ponderous use of all public platforms for campaigning, minor Cabinet reshuffles, and of course, sensationalising of questionable scandals involving opposition politicians, are strong indications of the ruling party’s impending move to call for general elections.
For now, the polls appear to be looming with the focus on a “major” scandal that has been rocking the mainstream media, which is the apparent extramarital affair between two prominent members of the Democratic Action Party (DAP).
Anyone following developments in Malaysian politics would have heard about accusations hurled at Bukit Bendera parliamentarian Zairil Khir Johari, and Dyana Sofya Daud, a member of the DAP’s youth committee.
For the politically inclined, rumours of the two being in a hidden relationship is nothing new as word began circulating several years ago during the last general elections in 2013, and a by-election in which Dyana was a candidate. But now, it has been reignited with new photos that are allegedly of Zairil and Dyana canoodling and smooching while having dinner at a restaurant.
What makes this a scandal is that Zairil is married with two children and that because both he and Dyana are Muslims, people also question the wine glasses that are on the dining table (and of Dyana taking a swig of one).
Both Zairil and Dyana have denied that they are having an affair. Explaining to the press and his party’s leadership, Zairil maintains that the photos are fake and created by his political foes and detractors.
Sex scandals are not uncommon in Malaysian politics, as evident in the case former and current Malaysian Pan-Islamic Party (PAS) stalwarts Mohamad Sabu and Mustafa Ali, former Malaysian Chinese Assembly (MCA) president Chua Soi Lek, and of course, the grand-daddy of all scandals, Anwar Ibrahim who is serving a five-year prison sentence for sodomy.
Despite the widespread sensationalising of the scandals, mostly on government-owned mainstream media outlets, not many were proven to be true. Usually, the rumours and so-called photos and videos will emerge when polling day draw nearer but will fizzle out once the elections are over.
While most implicated politicians have denied the motifying accusations, only two have held water; Anwar went through a lengthy trial and was subsequently put in prison (although he has adamantly denied the charges) and Chua’s scandal, which took on a surprising turn after he admitted to having an affair with a hairdresser.
So, why are sex scandals considered a popular tool for smear campaigns and does it really affect an individual’s capability to be a good public administrator and politician? Well, in Muslim-majority Malaysia, the question of a leader’s morality take precedence as it reflected on their honesty, transparency, and credibility.
Sex scandals, while considered a personal matter, reveals the true character of the individual. This is of particular importance if he or she is an elected public official who has a responsibility towards the people.
Sure, that individual could be responsible in certain aspects of his or her life and very irresponsible in other aspects. But because sex scandals are usually hidden and lied about, the integrity of that individual is brought into question.
If he or she is capable of lying and being dishonest on the matter, how would the public know where his or her dishonesty threshold lies? If they are lying on one matter, how could anyone trust them on any other?
Personally, I believe that sex scandals among public figures, especially those who run for public office, is a matter of public interest. The responsibility that these people will hold is so important and trust is a key factor to why the public would vote for them and entrust them.
But if the public can still accept a public official implicated in a sex scandal, then so be it. Chua’s re-appointment as MCA president following his scandal is a case in point.
With Chua’s affair exposed and subsequent admission, the public and his party members eventually saw the clear picture and made an informed decision based on all available facts.
And that is just the point. Lying and dishonesty that surrounds sex scandals should be made public because it is a matter of public interest and the people have a right to know so that they can evaluate and decide on who they want to vote for.
These scandals are reminders that the discerning public should not be taken for granted. They understand that politics can be dirty sometimes (of not most of the time?) and they can see through rumours which enables them to make informed choices when electing their leaders.
As for politicians, they just need to absorb and accept the fact that they will always be held by a higher set of ethical, moral and professional standards. They must simply learn to digest this reality or forget their political aspirations altogether. All this comes with their willingness to be honest.
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