Sex-Tape Scandal Spices Up Malaysian Elections

Chua Soi Lek, one of Malaysia’s top Chinese politicians, has been forced to resign as minister of health and to leave politics after a sexually explicit videotape showing him getting into bed with an unnamed woman was widely circulated.

The DVD had been circulating in the southern state of Johor for more than a week when Chua, who also served as vice president of the Malaysian Chinese Association, which is part of the ruling Barisan Nasional, held a press conference to tell startled reporters that “I would like to verify that I am the man in the tape. The girl is a personal friend.”

Despite a series of scandals over the past few months, including one in which a prominent lawyer was caught on tape discussing the appointment of compliant judges with the chief justice of Federal Court, no other politicians have resigned. If anything, the current affair points up the leniency towards corrupt officials by the leadership of the country’s largest party, the United Malays National Organisation. Indeed, the alleged hypocrisy has stirred comment online. One of the 54,000 YouTube viewers who watched a partial transmission wrote:

“Why can all the ministers and leaders Malaysia rasuah (bribe) but not fuck? Why fuck need to letak jawatan (resign) but rasuah doesn't have to? Barisan National please step down. Keep in mind fucking minister will not make the country poor, but corrupted minister does. I do not mind all minister fucking around but please do not rasuah.”

The videotape, which shows the pair undressing, appeared to have been shot surreptitiously. According to those who have watched the tape, there were two separate DVDs depicting the alleged sex act purportedly recorded using closed circuit television (CCTV) cameras. The first DVD, lasting 56 minutes, showed the entire sexual act from four different angles.

In his press conference, Chua said, “I would like to emphasize that I did not make the tape. Who has done the tape and why is obvious,” he added, although he did not name the person he suspected, although analysts in Malaysia believe it came from infighting within the MCA. Police have vowed an investigation to seek out the cameraman. Indeed, the chairman of the division from which Chua was elected hinted as much, urging the MCA to act against those involved in the production and distribution of the DVDs.

In any case, the scandal drives one of the country’s most publicly austere politicians out of politics. He also stepped down as a member of parliament and left all posts he held in the Johor MCA. By his own admission, he spoke with Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, Deputy Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak, leaders of the MCA and others in an effort to preserve his position, all to no avail.

Badawi’s stance was signaled by an op-ed piece in the UMNO-linked New Straits Times Wednesday, written by Kalimullah Hassan, a close confidant of the prime minister. Entitled “Accountability, that elusive quality in politicians,” the piece suggested that Chua resign and save the government from “further anguish.”

The departure presents considerable problems for Badawi. National elections could be held as early as the next month or two. An experienced politician, Chua’s organizational skills were expected to be an asset to the prime minister at a time when Malaysia’s Chinese, who make up 25 percent of the country’s population, are increasingly disaffected with the Barisan Nasional, observers say. Analysts expect Chua’s departure to throw the MCA’s political machinery into disarray, with a flock of other Chinese politicians jockeying for power to fill his seat as vice president.

Ethnic Malays, most of them wedded to UMNO, make up slightly more than 50 percent of the population. The Chinese, most of whom have historically voted for the MCA, are crucial to preserving the Barisan’s two-thirds majority, which has precluded minority parties from any effective role in parliament whatsoever.

However, in an atmosphere of increasing racial tension, in which UMNO members have made fiery speeches accusing the Chinese of holding a disproportionate amount of the country’s wealth and describing them as interlopers in Malay society, urban Chinese have reportedly begun casting an eye at the Democratic Action Party and Parti Keadilan Rakyat, two of the biggest opposition parties.

Chandra Muzaffar, a political scientist and the head of the non-governmental organization International Movement for a Just World, said the manner of the videotaping raises suspicions. “His (Chua’s) enemies would have caused internal fighting within the MCA. Their ability to force this scandal and his eventual resignation may embolden other factions within the constituency and the MCA overall. So the MCA must put its house in order first before elections.”

However, Muzaffar added, “Now that Dr. Chua has resigned it should be easier for the MCA and the Barisan to face the electorate. They would have been hard pressed to face the electorate if not for the resignation. The prime minister will be viewed in a better light. He can turn this to his advantage, saying ‘We don’t protect such leaders.’”

Badawi reportedly has already reconciled himself to a lesser majority. He has stumbled from crisis to crisis over the last year over concerns ranging from the political ambitions of his son-in-law to alleged mismanagement of the economy. However, his most serious problems have stemmed from race-related issues. Chinese voters in particularly seem unimpressed by the premier’s lack of direction and perceived discrimination by the Muslim-Malay majority.

A spate of recent street protests also saw the prime minister invoke the draconian Internal Security Act to jail five ethnic Indian protest leaders who organized a December march complaining that Indians had been marginalized in Malaysian society. The act allows for indeterminate preventive detention without trial.

Former deputy premier Anwar Ibrahim has also put the heat on Abdullah’s administration with huge demonstrations by Malaysian standards in the capital city of Kuala Lumpur. Protesters thought to number around 30,000 accused the government of vote rigging and demanded fairer elections.

Fearing a fall in support ahead of elections, Abdullah Badawi has reiterated that he was listening to the electorate. But the latest scandal hits at the core of a campaign that rests on the phrase Islam Hadhari, translated to mean Civilizational Islam, which espouses virtue in government.

Chua apologized to the prime minister, the nation, his colleagues and his wife and children. “Who has done this tape is not important to me,” he said. “What is more important is that my family, my wife and children, have accepted my apology.”

So far, his wife appears to be standing by her man, telling reporters that “he has been a good husband, father and family man who had never shirked his responsibilities,” adding that she had forgiven him.