Will the latest sex scandal surrounding PKR see support for Pakatan waver? Yes and no, say analysts

While political analysts tend to disagree about whether or not character defamation can sway public opinion, there is consensus that sex scandals can still inflict some degree of damage even if the electorate appears to have matured politically. — Picture by Shafwan Zaidon
While political analysts tend to disagree about whether or not character defamation can sway public opinion, there is consensus that sex scandals can still inflict some degree of damage even if the electorate appears to have matured politically. — Picture by Shafwan Zaidon

KUALA LUMPUR, June 13 — The latest sex video scandal engulfing Pakatan Harapan (PH) may not shake the ruling coalition’s moderate base but will definitely put a spanner in its efforts to court more conservative Malay votes, analysts said.

Set against the background of growing public frustration with PH’s flip-flopping on key election pledges, a sex scandal — manufactured or not — could have adverse political consequences for the four-party bloc in the long run.

“Today, when political literacy is higher than before, we have higher expectations that the public is more rational when evaluating news,” Sivamurugan Pandian, political analyst at Universiti Sains Malaysia, told Malay Mail.

“But at the same time, there are some who will be emotional as we are a nation strongly bound by religious values.”

Several videos of roughly 90 seconds each began circulating on social media early Tuesday morning, just days after the Hari Raya break, that showed two men having sex. One of the men allegedly bore a resemblance to a senior Cabinet minister.

Then in the early hours of Wednesday morning, a Haziq Aziz posted a video on Facebook, confessing to being the man having sex with the minister.

At the same time, he accused the minister of corruption and urged the MACC to investigate the latter.

Immediately after, politicians from both sides of the divide came out to condemn those responsible for the video clip, calling it “vile”, “filth” and an attempt at character assassination.

They urged the public not to share or spread it on the internet, although in just two days the short clips, initially spread through WhatsApp, had already gone viral.

Sivamurugan said the country is long familiar with gutter politics, noting that many similar scandals had surfaced in the past.

But while sex scandals involving high profile politicians appear to draw less interest through the years, it is difficult to gauge its influence on voting attitudes.

“In politics, negative advertising or black PR has existed for a long time,” he said.

“I don’t know to what extent public awareness is to draw a line in accepting personalised politics or focus on credibility to lead.”

One of the most notable sex videos that implicated another PKR leader, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, was released during his second sodomy trial in 2011.

At the time, a survey held by influential pollster Merdeka Center found half of respondents admitting that the clip affected their confidence towards the party even as the same number said they were unsure of the clip’s authenticity.

PKR went into the 13th general election losing nearly half the seats it won in the preceding polls, although it is unclear if the sex clip or sodomy allegations that hovered over the former deputy prime minister had any bearing on the outcome.

But while political analysts tend to disagree about whether or not character defamation can sway public opinion, there is consensus that sex scandals can still inflict some degree of damage even if the electorate appears to have matured politically.

“It will definitely ignite the feeling of disgust towards (the minister),” Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia political analyst Kartini Aboo Talib said, citing public response to the video on social media that called PKR “Parti Kunyit Rakyat.”

Kunyit is the derogatory Malay street term used to describe homosexuals or transgenders similar to the English word “fag.”

“The moment the person... made a confession, nobody can claim it’s an accusation or hoax video.”

But other analysts like Oh Ei Sun, a senior fellow at the Singapore Institute of International Affairs, felt that the video or confession would have little impact other than reinforce the prejudices of the warring political factions.

“The recalcitrant conservative elements in Malaysia would anyway never be persuaded unless they get their way in leading Malaysia along a theocratic path,” Oh said.

“PH core supporters who are more open-minded I think can separate the public deeds of politicians from their private lives.”

Since Haziq Aziz’s confession video, Datuk Seri Azmin Ali has made a statement denying he is the other man in the video and called the whole thing an attempt to destroy his political career.

A second wave of sex video and photographs were released last night even as PKR leaders met to discuss the scandal.