20 February, 2009

Dr M :"It's gutter politics"

Former PM. Dr Mahathir Mohamad believes that the circulation of Bukit Lanjan assemblyman Elizabeth Wong's semi-nude photographs was politically motivated.

'In Malaysia now, we're seeing a lot of dirty politics,' he said in response to claims that she was a victim of a political smear campaign.

He added that a lot of things were happening in Malaysia which was related to politics.

'This is bad because it's so easy to take pictures and get people into trouble' .

Dr Mahathir added that whether Ms Wong would eventually resign depended on her party although she had offered to do so.

The female politician caught in a scandal following the circulation of photos of her in the nude has left Malaysia, saying that she needed to escape the intense media scrutiny.

Since media reports broke the news of the photos on Monday, Ms Elizabeth Wong has been contending with the backlash and had made a tearful offer to resign from all her political posts.

A poison pen letter is also said to be floating around, detailing a list of her former boyfriends.

Yesterday, faced with the threat of 'more lewd, graphical, sensational stories', the Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) assemblywoman decided that enough was enough.

'Despite having tendered my resignation from all posts, the media and websites continue to intrude...I have also been told there will be a fresh assault, with more photographs and videos released and circulated in order to completely degrade and bury me,' she said in a statement.

'This is the darkest episode in my life. I have never felt so alone, vulnerable and humiliated.

'I need to rest and to search for peace of mind to get away from the stormy events surrounding me.'

In the statement, the 37-year-old also declared her determination to quit all her political posts, although her party leaders had advised her to go on extended leave instead.

This makes another by-election - which the opposition coalition wants to avoid - inevitable. With by-elections scheduled for April 7 in Perak and Kedah, a third will strain Pakatan Rakyat's resources.

With Ms Wong's departure, the key players in the scandal are both out of the country. Police here are still looking for Mr Hilmi Malek, widely reported to be her ex-lover, to help with investigations.

Mr Hilmi is rumoured to be in Indonesia, and a maid at his Ampang Jaya home told reporters that he has not been home for two weeks.

Described as suave and good-looking, he is in his early 30s and worked as a personal assistant to PKR lawmaker Hee Loy Sian for nine months after the general elections last March.

Mr Hee told China Press that he fired Mr Hilmi because he had a 'poor work attitude'. The Chinese daily reported yesterday that Mr Hilmi and Ms Wong had had a relationship for three years and that it soured towards the end of last year.

It added that Mr Hilmi has no known links to the Barisan Nasional (BN) government.

She has so far not spoken about him and may never do so, as she stressed in her statement yesterday that she will not answer any questions pertaining to her private life.

But if she confesses to a relationship with him, her Muslim ex-lover could be charged in a syariah court with zina (unlawful intercourse) or khalwat (close proximity), because the two are unmarried.

Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, who is in charge of Islamic affairs, told The Star daily that Ms Wong's testimony was valid even though she was a non-Muslim.

As a non-Muslim, she will not be charged by the Syariah Court, he said.

It is unclear how long Ms Wong intends to stay away, and where she has gone, but the political uncertainty left by her void is unlikely to disappear.

BN has been repeatedly accused of engineering this scandal, though there has been no evidence to suggest so. Pakatan must now decide if it is prepared to lose a popular assemblyman, while shouldering the unwanted load of another by-election.

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