Gutter Politics 101

1 November, 2011

Malaysian politics stooped to a new low when Lim Guan Eng’s political opponents accused his son of sexually harassing a schoolmate. In a slanderous blog posting, an UMNO division chief and blogger accused Lim Guan Eng of paying the girl off with RM200,000 to close the case and have his son transferred to another school.  The allegation was later found to be totally untrue. This is the latest in a series of blatant lies by UMNO in an attempt to tarnish the image of Lim Guan Eng and DAP.

A day after the incident happened, MCA’s Chua Soi Lek remarked that all politicians are guilty of gutter politics. He accused the opposition of taking the moral high ground only when they are affected. He was of course alluding to his own experience as a victim of gutter politics. An infamous and self-admitted video of his extramarital affair was used as a powerful tool to kill him off politically.

Being wrongly accused by opponents is not a new thing for politicians – it has literally become part and parcel of their professional life. After all, it is an open secret that politicians all have political interests and often stay in the grey area in order to claim political mileage. The difference is however, how far one would go to achieve it.

What is the definition of ‘gutter politics’? Where is the boundary drawn? Here are some thoughts on the subject.

Truthfulness  

First and foremost, he who alleges must prove the allegation to be true. The accusation made against Lim Guan Eng’s son was completely plucked from thin air and has proven untrue. Thanks to our IT-savvy comrade Goh Kheng Teong, the picture was traced using a Google device and found to be a 21 year-old chess master of Scottish-Chinese origin. The girl and the school have strongly denied the allegation.

Chua Soi Lek’s case was, however, admitted by himself to be true.

Of course, one cannot deny that truth is hard to prove. Public confidence in the judiciary system has dropped drastically since the judiciary crisis. This is clearly seen in the case of Teoh Beng Hock’s inquest and Anwar’s sodomy trial. What more with the advancement of digital technology today, the line between truth and falsehood can easily be blurred with a few clicks of a mouse.

Context

Does the accusation have direct relation to his or her performance as a leader? Or is it set to tarnish the image of the person involved?

Malaysians seem to be obsessed with our politicians’ sexual lives. Our community is by and large conservative and does not tolerate a more ‘liberal’ lifestyle. While there is nothing wrong with decency, it does not mean that the whistleblower stands on a higher moral ground. The person doing the exposing may well have a political agenda. In fact, the exposure could well be the tip of an iceberg.

One good example is the “scandalous” personal photo of Elizabeth Wong that was publicly circulated in 2007, causing her to resign from office. She was urged by Pakatan leaders to stay on, which she did.

Ironically, many people gossiped about her lifestyle and personal choices, but never questioned the man whose immoral act infringed on her privacy. The same could be said of Chua Soi Lek too. Although I do not condone his marital unfaithfulness, I do sympathize with him for being set up by his enemies.

On the other hand, many scandals revealed by Pakatan and DAP leaders are often with valid basis. For instance, the rakyat deserve to know if the Prime Minister misuses an official state visit in order to attend his daughter’s wedding on public funds, or if a murdered Mongolian model has any hidden relationship or secret deals with government top officials.

The person involved

Let the battle be between two warriors, why involve their children and loved ones? Lim Guan Eng’s son has completely no involvement in his father’s governmental and political business. What more he is only sixteen and by law should be protected under the Child Act 2001.

This differs with the Prime Minister’s wife. Though she is supposed to be a political outsider, she has been passionately involved in national affairs, championed causes with government allocation and has even represented the Prime Minister to welcome the Australian Prime Minister. Since she is so busy, the government has specially arranged a ‘First Lady of Malaysia’ department to assist her. One could argue that media and public scrutiny of her movements are justified.

Satire

Whether we like it or not, once a scandal breaks it becomes a public laughing stock. This is especially true in the Internet era where uploaded data can easily go viral at an uncontrollable pace. Although some memes are deliberately planted, recently there has been a surge of non-partisan netizens who express themselves via creative means. I think that as long as it is based on facts and not taken out of context, it should be taken with a pinch of salt after a good laugh and sober personal interpretation. Perhaps this is the rise of digital democracy

Private/Public matter

If Rosmah spends Najib’s hard-earned money, we perhaps can’t say much about it. But if it involves public money then the rakyat deserves to know. After all, we didn’t vote Rosmah in to be the Prime Minister’s wife, did we? But the self-proclaimed ‘First Lady’ is now holding the PERMATA portfolio with government funding and has even been revealed to have a ‘First Lady Of Malaysia’ department at her service. Also, how does it reflect on PM’s slogan of ‘rakyat didahulukan’ (people first) when his family is wallowing in luxury while 40% of the nation’s household scrape the barrel with less than 1500 ringgit per month?

Gutter politics is here to stay as long as the political power struggle remains, as we live in a world where truth, lies, distortions and politicization are so hard to tell. As the saying goes, ‘we get the government we deserve’. Only when voters wise up can we hope for a genuine government to be elected, with a little faith that God is in the midst of the messiness. –The Rocket

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