Sex tapes a new weapon to smear foes
In the old days of rough-and-tumble Southeast Asian politics, political players might attempt to smear their adversaries by calling them a communist, Western lackey, Vietnamese puppet or other such nasty labels. As wealth came to the region in the 1980s and 90s, it was just as effective to smear political rivals by accusing them of corruption.
But a new weapon has emerged in today's regional political landscape: the sex tape. Growing political and religious conservatism, particularly in Muslim-majority Indonesia and Malaysia, combined with politicians who preach moral values during the day and sin by night, and the abundance of mobile phones with video function have come together in a 'perfect storm' of dirty tricks stretching from northern Thailand to the Indonesian archipelago.
In the past few weeks, senior politicians in Jakarta and Kuala Lumpur were accused of starring in separate racy home-made videos with unidentified female companions.
Anis Matta, deputy Speaker of Indonesia's House of Representatives and secretary general of the conservative Islamic-based Prosperous Justice Party (PKS), vehemently denied being the man who appeared in a bathroom sex clip posted on Twitter on February 28.
On Tuesday, Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim filed a police report over a 21-minute online video that allegedly featured him having sex with an unknown woman.
Both men have claimed the sex tapes were part of a dirty-tricks campaign by their political enemies within the governments of Indonesia and Malaysia to smear their reputations.
'It's a reflection of the increased Islamisation and conservatism within society in both Malaysia and Indonesia, which has also engendered a high level of hypocrisy, combined with the proliferation of technology,' said Karim Raslan, a Malaysian newspaper columnist who divides his time between Kuala Lumpur and Jakarta.
Matta and his moralist political party in Indonesia are a case in point. The PKS was a staunch backer of the 2008 Anti-Pornography Law, even supporting a clause in an early draft of the bill that would imprison Indonesians for up to 10 years for kissing in public. A sex tape purportedly of Matta sparked speculation about how much time he deserved in prison for groping a naked woman in a bathtub. Matta said on Tuesday that the sex tape and recent allegations of corruption against him and other senior PKS officials were bogus and merely part of a concerted effort to undermine the party.
Anwar, who is already on trial in a long-running case on charges he had sodomised a male aide, held a press conference to deny he was the person in the video and blamed Prime Minister Najib Razak and Home Minister Hishammuddin Hussein.
'The screening could not have been done without the protection of Najib and the home minister. What's more, it was done officially in a prestigious hotel, where top news editors were invited,' he said.
On Wednesday, a former Malaysian government official and a prominent businessman, both with close ties to the ruling party, acknowledged that they were the ones who showed the video to journalists at the hotel.
Anwar accuses Malaysia's ruling party of fabricating criminal sodomy and corruption charges against him in 1999, after which he spent five years in prison, and in 2008 to prevent him from becoming prime minister.
In Jakarta, political analyst Effendi Gazali, a member of a group of religious figures and prominent activists that is highly critical of the Indonesian government, said they feared that the country's intelligence agency is trying to entrap them in a sex-tape scandal.
'We're getting a lot of calls from women wanting to meet us, and get to know us. It's disturbing,' Gazali said. 'If you say 'yes' and meet them, then there's a video recording on a handphone, you will be finished in political circles.'
You could also end up in prison. Some Indonesian activists are calling for the repeal of the controversial Anti-Pornography Law, which saw rock star Nazril 'Ariel' Irham sentenced to 3 1/2 years in prison on January 31 after separate sex tapes featuring him and two girlfriends were stolen from his home and posted online.
Activists decried the hypocrisy because the main political parties that voted for the law themselves had lawmakers caught in sex-tape scandals, but were never prosecuted.