The bad and ugly side of politics

It has been a terrible fall from grace for Bukit Lanjan assemblyman Elizabeth Wong. Despite calls for her to stand her ground and not resign, it would have been quite untenable for her to soldier on.

During a late night meeting earlier this week, an exasperated Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim threw his hands into the air and said with some feeling: “Aku gelak, tension sangat!” (I have to laugh, there is too much tension).

It was his way of letting off steam after a week of high-drama politics for the party.

The PKR de facto leader had every reason to tension sangat, the Malay slang for being under pressure.

Anwar’s party is still staggering under the weight of the Elizabeth Wong issue, there are two by-elections round the corner and the political instability in Perak has climbed to a new level.

Anwar had missed the opening of Parliament on Monday and when he turned up the next day, he was mobbed by the media with questions about the fate of the Bukit Lanjan assemblyman.

It has been a terrible fall from grace for Wong.

Her party has asked her to go on long leave while they mull over her decision to resign from all her posts. The beleaguered politician, who has not even completed her first year as a Yang Berhormat, went abroad on Thursday.

Her supporters inside and outside the party have defended her and urged her not to resign.

Beyond control

But it should be clear by now that there is really no way she can stay on without inviting further damage to herself and her party.

The photograph scandal is now beyond her control. It has taken on a life of its own.

Although she has been pointedly silent about who might have taken the pictures of her, the identity of the culprit, for want of a better term, is out in the open.

He is allegedly an ex-boyfriend known as Hilmi Malek and his name was one of the most Googled last week.

The photograph of him, showing a clean-cut young man wearing a boyish smile and a black t-shirt, with a book and cigarette in hand, has appeared in some newspapers.

Discussion and speculation about the ex-couple and the circumstances in which the photographs were taken are all over the Internet.

The police want to question him, the media wants to interview him and everyone is talking about what a looker he is.

The spotlight has moved on to mystery man Hilmi.

Who exactly is he? What was his motive in leaking the pictures? Was it character assassination and if so, was it prompted by enemies from outside or was it an inside job?

Was she the actual target or is she just a tool to hit at bigger personalities in the party such as Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim’s leadership?

Or was it simply a soured love affair?

The Elizabeth Wong scandal has raised more questions than provided answers.

PKR leaders have been quick to accuse “political enemies” of being behind the issue.

“The way the scandal broke, just as Parliament opened, was too coincidental. It suggests a political agenda by politically connected people. People were talking about it in the Parliament lobby, that our pigeon holes were about to be flooded with the photographs,” said PKR vice-president and Petaling Jaya Utara MP R. Sivarasa.

Seri Setia assemblyman Nik Nazmi Nik Ahmad, has condemned it as “gutter politics.”

“(Datuk Seri Dr) Khir Toyo was very quick to jump in and condemn Elizabeth. I find it comical and hypocritical. They are hoping for a crisis in the state government but it’s not going to happen because we have a strong majority,” said Nik Nazmi who is also political secretary to the Mentri Besar.

It is not difficult to imagine PKR’s opponents using such tactics to undermine the party in Selangor.

But it is also well known that the grassroots faction in PKR was angered by appointments like Wong and several others to the state executive council. This faction was upset with Khalid, the Selangor Mentri Besar, for not giving greater consideration to long-time grassroots loyalists when he formed his state executive council.

Khalid had apparently picked people like Wong, who came from the NGO camp of PKR, rather than grassroots leaders because he wanted to de-politicise his executive council. But it was seen as sidelining those who had been with the party from the very start.

However, said a party insider: “There is infighting in the party but it has not come to this extent.”

Party members who are acquainted with the alleged culprit prefer to subscribe to a less conspiratorial scenario. They believe it is basically a love affair gone seriously wrong.

But they admitted the way the photographs were made available to selected media outlets suggested that the individual might also have been exploited by people opposed to the party.

Now that Wong is out of the country, the media circus will move on to the still missing Hilmi. He has been incommunicado for more than two weeks but he has to turn up at some point or other.

The party’s political bureau was initially divided on whether Wong should resign. It was only when those at the meeting were informed that there might be more pictures and a 30-minute video that they reluctantly agreed she had to go.

Wong is basically a contemporary woman whose career imploded when her private life spilled over into her political life.

In hindsight, the party’s political expediency was for the better because of the intense interest in and curiosity about her lifestyle. All sorts of details, whether accurate or exaggerated, are leaking out.

Adverse publicity

Although people are genuinely sympathetic, they are not exactly adverse to jokes being made at her expense and unsavoury remarks about her photographs.

Moreover, the Muslim-Malay opinion is also starting to emerge, and she may find that sympathy over her private affairs is rather thin in that quarter.

Despite the good intentions of her colleagues that she stand her ground, it would have been quite untenable for her to soldier on.

Her life is being stripped bare and as she said in a statement before leaving for her break, “I have never felt so alone, vulnerable and humiliated.”

“The important thing is taking responsibility and she passed that test,” said Selangor PKR Youth chief Khairul Anuar.

Khairul had left for an overseas assignment at the height of the Perak crisis.

“I was in the Mentri Besar’s house listening to a ceramah the night before I went off. When I came back a week later, another issue was burning in Selangor, my own backyard. It has been a non-stop attack on us,” he said.

There is really too much politics going around and it may very soon reach saturation point for the common man.

The Merdeka Centre, in indepth interviews with voters in Selangor recently, found that people are concerned about the excessive politicking happening around them.

The centre’s director Ibrahim Suffian said that those interviewed think there have been too many political controversies. They complained that salaries have not gone up and prices of goods have not come down even though petrol price has been reduced.

The cost of living is still too high for them to cope. Those in the manufacturing sector are very worried about their jobs. There have been cutbacks in overtime and bonuses have been scrapped.

“The thing is, they are equally disillusioned and fed-up with both the ruling party and the Opposition,” said Ibrahim.

Elizabeth Wong may feel she is a victim of politics. If it’s any consolation, the common people out there also feel that their priorities are being sidelined by excessive politics.

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