KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 19 — The storm over the semi-naked photographs of an opposition assemblywoman may have started as a private matter, but it has now become a complicated political mess for both sides.
Bullets have been fired at the Barisan Nasional for using it as a political weapon. But the opposition Pakatan Rakyat is also grappling with the difficulties of defending its assemblywoman without alienating the conservatives in its midst.
The BN took the first hit after the photographs of Elizabeth Wong began circulating. Some even called it a BN conspiracy, despite the lack of evidence.
“This is a nasty, humiliating personal attack on her and we have seen this pattern of attack in Perak, Kedah and now, in Selangor,” opposition leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim was quoted as saying in The Star daily yesterday.
Asked for proof that the BN was responsible, he reportedly said several blogs had made the link.
Deputy Premier Datuk Seri Najib Razak yesterday denied that the BN was behind the scandal, and told the opposition to stop making baseless accusations.
“Where is the proof? Who did it? I don't know anything about it and suddenly the issue exploded in the papers. If they want to accuse us, please show proof,” he said.
There seems to be widespread belief in a conspiracy. This is not surprising as the BN is carrying the heavy burden of a loss of public confidence.
The timing of the photographs comes close to the toppling of the opposition government in Perak, and the resignation of an opposition assemblyman in Kedah. V. Arumugam resigned abruptly after being accused of marrying another woman without divorcing his first wife.
“He was targeted, and it turned into a morality issue,” said political analyst Khoo Kay Peng.
In fact, many BN leaders, including MCA women's chief Datuk Chew Mei Fun and Gerakan women's chief Tan Lian Hoe, have been sympathetic to Wong.
They were swift to support her when the photographs of her asleep, partially naked, surfaced.
Wong, 37, who tendered her resignation on Tuesday, did not say who took the photographs, but police are looking to question her former boyfriend Hilmi Malek, 32.
But what caught attention was Umno Youth chief aspirant Datuk Seri Dr Khir Toyo's call for Wong's resignation. “She is a single person. How can she allow a man into her room when they are not married?” he was quoted as saying.
There is vast sympathy for Wong from the public, and Dr Khir was slammed by many for his remarks.
But the opposition is also aware that there is a segment of Malaysian society who thinks like him, and views premarital sex as a sin.
“Wong the politician understands that there are people who do mind, and some could be in her constituency, hence her offer to resign,” columnist Zainul Arifin wrote in the New Straits Times.
Wong had said she wanted to resign because she believed the attacks by the BN would continue with greater intensity.
But even within her coalition, there appears to be difficulties.
The conservative Pas has not spoken with one voice. While its women's chief Nuridah Salleh supported Wong, its Selangor leadership has been ambivalent.
“If investigations reveal any moral transgression on the part of Wong, we feel that appropriate action must be taken against her to safeguard the integrity and good name of Pakatan Rakyat and the Selangor government,” it said in a statement on Tuesday.
The issue is complicated by the fact that Wong's former boyfriend is Muslim, and is subject to Islamic laws on morality, such as those on close proximity.
“The matter could take on a new dimension,” said an MCA politician.
As Khoo noted, the political twist in this private matter has merely reinforced the belief that sex scandals are the most potent tool to destroy political rivals in Malaysia. — The Straits Times