Is sexual fidelity necessary for public office?

JUNE 17 — The recent sex video scandal has resurrected the spectre of “gutter politics” (or maybe it’s just proven that the gutter never left us) and exposed the factions within Pakatan Harapan.

Sex is both Malaysia’s most “juicy” topic and the one thing we can’t handle very well. 

We say it shouldn’t be part of politics but we’ll never not think and talk about every new scandal. Because of all the cursing and squirming, perhaps, one question not many people are asking (or asking very carefully) is: Should being “guilty” of such a sexual transgression immediately disqualify a person from public office? 

Assume I am an elected law-maker, I’m married, but I couldn’t resist a “dangerous liaison” with a person of the same sex, and further assume I’m caught (with my pants down, literally) ─ must this mean I am not fit to perform my duties as a minister?

Okay, so I’m an adulterer who’s had some pretty nasty or dirty romps behind closed doors (and seriously hot sheets), is there any reason why I would have “no choice” but to resign?

This isn’t an academic question. As of today, the jury is out on the whether or not the accused parties in the video are who they have denied they are. 

Nevertheless, many Malaysians hold the position that should the minister in question actually be one of the men in the video, he must resign. Why? Presumably because he’s cheated on his wife and lied about it.

Even putting aside the criminalisation of gay sex in our country, the thing is many Malaysians still posit a strong link between sexual morality and one’s qualifications for “public office” (see Note 1). 

But why is this absolutely necessary? Why must the “purity” of a leader’s personal life be such a huge factor in us “allowing” him to continue in his role?

Take the Cabinet minister in question, assume he’s the guy in the video. 

Okay, so he cheated on his wife, why would this make him less qualified to serve as the minister of economic affairs? Okay, so he’s gay; what does that have to do with his knowledge of economics, government spending, GDP growth, etc.? 

Cheating in a marriage has nothing to do with cheating on his country and people. And if he hasn’t done anything to compromise his ability to serve the country, why demand he resigns? 

Certainly if he’s committed a crime, especially a crime against the state, then that by definition means that he’s violated the axioms by which a state is governed and therefore may not be fit to be a part of the leadership apparatus for the same state. 

But adultery isn’t a crime (and, in my humble opinion, being gay or having gay sex shouldn’t be criminalised either, see Note 2).

Thing is, the ability to succeed as a leader involves many variables. Why should all these skills and expertise be rendered null and void over a character flaw involving one’s sexuality?

Nor is this controversy limited to political office. Around the country, extra-marital infidelity and homosexuality is on the rise. Many people who are so-called “guilty” in these areas hold good jobs, if not positions of power (in all worlds, corporate, NGO, government, etc.). 

If we demand a minister’s resignation over a personal infidelity, should we then demand every office leader to resign their positions over failures in their personal lives, too?

So, Malaysians, should we endorse as leaders only those individuals who are still in their first marriage? 

* Note 1: Hence, the almost knee-jerk reaction to Donald Trump’s presidency. The argument is that to be a political leader demands a near “flawless” character when it comes to the person’s sexual life. 
Not having a criminal record isn’t enough. Trump, so the argument goes, fails on the second criterion, therefore he cannot be president. This article hopes to problematise this kind of thinking.

* Note 2: I’m obviously putting aside the issue of gay sex as being a crime in Malaysia. Because this kind of argument used against the minister would imply that homosexual people cannot take public office and do well. That’s just stupid and wrong, isn’t it?

** This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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