Sat, Jun 22, 2019 - Page 6 News List

Scandal blurs Malaysia succession plan

SEX VIDEOS:The episode has sharpened the focus on whether the PM would stick to a promise before last year’s election to hand over power to Anwar Ibrahim

Reuters, KUALA LUMPUR

Leaked sex videos purporting to show a potential successor to Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad with another man have deepened rifts within the ruling coalition and raised concerns of a turbulent transition from the 93-year-old leader.

The sex videos, which are allegedly of Malaysian Economic Affairs Minister Mohamed Azmin Ali, were widely distributed to journalists and politicians via WhatsApp last week.

Sodomy is a crime in Malaysia and in the past, Anwar Ibrahim, who Mahathir has named as his successor, has spent about a decade in jail under the law.

Azmin, who is said to be close to Mahathir, denied he was in the videos, saying they were a “nefarious plot” to end his political career.

In a video posted on Facebook last week, Muhammad Haziq Abdul Aziz, an aide at the time to a deputy minister in Azmin’s party, claimed that he was one of the men in the video and the other was Azmin.

Haziq was arrested last week and later released on police bail. He has been sacked from his post.

The episode has sharpened the focus on whether Mahathir would stick to a promise before last year’s general election to hand over power to Anwar and the potential for political instability in Malaysia.

The uncertainty threatens to disrupt already stuttering efforts to revive a struggling economy, including Mahathir’s pre-election promise to cut mounting government debt, a key benchmark of reform success for investors and ratings agencies.

Azmin is a central figure in stabilizing public finances.

A close aide of Mahathir said that the veteran leader, who is often referred to by the honorific “Tun,” would stick to the pre-election agreement unless it was taken out of his hands by a shift in consensus within the Pakatan Harapan alliance.

“Tun is prepared to fulfill his promise,” the aide said, asking not to be named due the sensitivity of the matter. “Of course, if Pakatan Harapan, or the people, want someone else, then that’s different.”

Mahathir dismissed the sex videos as “fake” last week, angering Anwar’s camp, who felt he should wait until the police had investigated, people close to Anwar said.

Mahathir’s office did not respond to queries on whether he has been priming Azmin as a potential successor and on the rising tensions in the coalition.

Six senior sources within the ruling Pakatan Harapan coalition said that Azmin, a 54-year-old father of six, has been targeted because he is seen as a rival to Anwar.

On Tuesday, Azmin said that he was convinced the videos were the work of insiders in the Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) party, the biggest component of the Pakatan alliance.

Anwar and Azmin are the president and deputy president of the PKR.

Azmin’s office declined to comment further.

Anwar has said that it was “slander” to suggest he had anything to do with the leaked footage. His office declined to comment further.

Anwar was fired as Mahathir’s deputy prime minister in 1998 before he was slapped with sodomy and corruption charges, souring their relationship until they formed an unlikely alliance ahead of a shock victory in last year’s election.

“The infighting and the attacks against Azmin could potentially strengthen the case for Mahathir to delay the transition or serve out a full government term,” said Adib Zalkalpi, director at political risk consultancy Bower Group Asia.

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