Thursday, March 24, 2011

Malaysia's Latest Anwar Tale is Like a Bad Movie

Kuala Lumpur. It could be the plot of a bizarre movie.

First, the hush-hush phone calls to journalists, urging them to hurry to a posh hotel for an important briefing by a man most said they never heard of.

Then, many of them actually complied - each probably anxious about being beaten to a good story by rivals.

At the hotel, they allowed strange men to frisk them and remove their mobile phones and pens.

Finally, the show: a 21-minute video of vigorous sex action, purportedly featuring Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim and a prostitute.

Add the mysterious "Datuk T," who arranged the entire episode, a so-called insider who claimed to have found the sex tape, and repeated ominous references to an Omega watch, and you have the makings of a really bad movie.

Except that this time, even Malaysians jaded by past episodes of politicians filmed in compromising situations are all agog.

A key reason is that the man allegedly at the center of the latest sex show is Anwar, who has vehemently denied that he is involved.

The other reason is the extremely curious backdrop to the whole story.

Many Malaysians are now beside themselves with curiosity over the identity of Datuk T, who surfaced again yesterday via an e-mail sent through a third party.

The mystery man now wants the media and non-governmental organizations to set up an independent public commission to investigate the authenticity of the tape, and has promised to hand the original recording to them as soon as a panel is formed.

Reporters who turned up for the briefing on Monday described Datuk T as being in his late 40s or early 50s. A Malay man of medium build, he had swept-back hair and - of course - kept his sunglasses on throughout the event.

The assembled journalists - from both mainstream and online media - said they had never seen him or any of his sidekicks before.

But one person, who requested anonymity, claimed to know Datuk T and said he is an acquaintance of Anwar. A businessman, Datuk T apparently has no political affiliations with either the opposition or the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition.

Why he is leading this campaign, why he chose the posh Carcosa Seri Negara hotel as the venue and how he got hold of the recording are among the questions to which there are no answers yet.

Then there is the "insider," who supposedly discovered the offending video.

His story starts some time after the man and woman in the video are done having sex. The video shows the woman rummaging through the man's things while he is in the bathroom, and she apparently takes an Omega watch.

Later, the man in the video discovered his watch missing and sent the insider - presumably an aide - back to look for it.

While overturning the room in a futile search for the watch, the insider stumbled upon the recording devices and the footage.

Disgusted by the taped sex, he looked for someone to help him expose the politician and, well, settled on Datuk T.

There is more.

At the briefing on Monday, Datuk T flashed a watch at the gathered reporters but did not allow them to touch it.

Why the watch holds such a central place in the plot is not known, but the smart bet is that Anwar must own something similar.

Asked at his press conference on Monday if he had an Omega watch, Anwar replied that he did, but added that it was kept by his wife.

Where this whole affair will wind up is anyone's guess, but Malaysians are clearly torn over this latest sex scandal.

The pro-Anwar camp points to his first sodomy conviction in 1998 and his ongoing trial for a similar offense, and asserts that this is just the latest government plot against a popular and charismatic leader.

Anti-opposition groups, on the other hand, are adamant that Anwar is either the man in the video or has cooked this whole episode up as a means of garnering sympathy for his coalition, which has lost some of its luster of late because of internal squabbling and weak leadership.

"I think many people are beginning to realize that the video is Anwar's own game; it is the opposition leader's way of diverting attention away from the DNA issue," wrote an anonymous blogger named Marahku (My Anger). He was referring to the prosecution's push to compel Anwar to give a DNA sample to prove his innocence once and for all in the current sodomy trial.

A court is due to rule on that issue today.

Former Parti Keadilan Rakyat MP Zulkifli Nordin, who was sacked from his party last year, thought Anwar would benefit most from the sex video.

"This new revelation will only channel public concern towards the video and leave the DNA issue unsolved," he said.

Many Malaysians fall somewhere between these two camps.

As writer Dina Zaman said in an online column: "He [or any politician] can go play with a monkey for all we care. Or a chicken. All we want is our Malaysia back. We have the stalled economy, inter-faith and racial issues to worry about. And the governance of a country which is falling to pieces. And the poor... Can we have our Malaysia back?"

Not any time soon. This story that starts with a mystery man and contains generous dollops of sex, intrigue and that Omega watch, looks likely to take some time to unravel.Carolyn Hong - Straits Times Indonesia

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