|To fall is human, to resign responsible|
|Sunday, 06 January 2008 09:48am|
Sunday Star (Used by permission)
Temptations abound for the rich and powerful but with their lives constantly in the spotlight, the consequences of giving in to them are great – if caught.
IMPORTANT message from the Health Ministry – for safe sex, use a face mask, not a condom.”
The joke that is making its rounds in the wake of the former Health Minister’s sex scandal may sound a tad insensitive, cruel even, but as pointed out by some, it nails the point perfectly.
As echoed by social scientist Dr Yeoh Seng Guan, “There are many rumours of politicians and public leaders committing similar moral and sexual sins. He (Datuk Seri Dr Chua Soi Lek) was unfortunate to have been caught.”
Merdeka Centre for Opinion Research director Ibrahim Suffian concurred.
Malaysians, he said, are generally willing to ignore rumours and gossips of leaders’ personal misbehaviour, but once proven guilty, they will be quick to reject them.
He believes that Dr Chua failed to garner support after his confession because the admission only made the evidence of his misconduct infallible.
“Confessing his guilt was a brave and honourable act for Dr Chua but the evidence – video and confession – then made it difficult for the public to accept what he did.
“Malaysia is a conservative country and the leaders are expected to be morally upright. Many Malaysians believe that if they accept and forgive the adulterous act, they will be seen as condoning it,” he said.
Dr Yeoh, who is a senior lecturer Monash University's School of Arts and Sciences concurred, “Politicians and public leaders must be morally impeccable since they are supposed to be role models. Most of the public responses on the Internet and print media say that they admire Dr Chua’s admission of guilt rather than do the merry go round and depend on the powers-that-be to save him.”
Although Merdeka Centre has not conducted any survey on how sex scandals affect voters’ confidence, Ibrahim noted that previous surveys showed that personal misconduct tops Malaysians’ no-no list for politicians.
“Malaysians perceive personal misconduct such as infidelity as the most unforgivable transgression for their politicians. They rate it above betrayal – where a politician goes against his word, and corruption,” he said, adding that the average Malaysian looks for a leader who will listen to their grouses and concerns and do their best to help them.
“Usually they will overlook things if they feel that the politician is good and is someone they like. For those in the rural areas, their ideal politician is someone who they feel can bring in development to their area.”
He believes that, as erroneous as it may sound, Dr Chua might have been forgiven had he not come out to admit to his actions.
True, to many, Dr Chua’s confession and subsequent resignation were more shocking than the sexual misconduct.
However, according to Datuk Zaid Ibrahim, the MP for Kota Baru, admitting to one's wrongdoings and resigning should be part of the culture of politicians.
Commending Dr Chua's resignation, he stressed that it was the right thing to do.
“A leader is a person who can stand above all this and carry his job of serving the people. Leaders have to be upright and if they get involved in illicit activities they must resign because they are elected to office by the people and are accountable and responsible to their electorate. In the event they don't, the standard of leadership will deteriorate,” he said.
The temptation for illicit sex and power play in politics will always be there for leaders as they climb up the ladder holding key portfolios, added Zaid, but “If caught, the price is heavy.”
Politicians are human too, and sometimes find it hard to be a good role model all the time, say others.
Former Rasah MP Hu Sepang, who retired from politics in 1991, explained that it is almost impossible to be a goody-two-shoes round the clock.
“Psychologically, it is hell to have this ‘holier than thou' attitude. You expect me to be an angel, but I am not. So how? When do politicians get to let their hair down?” he asked.
He is of the opinion that if the affair involved emotional ties it is more acceptable than if it were a fling.
“If this (affair) contains personal elements or emotions, then everyone should understand. If they have a fling, then they are looking for trouble. They want excitement, but they do not deserve any sympathy,” he said.
He added that to be emotionally entangled with a partner who is not your spouse is the worst thing that can happen as a politician.
“Everyone is human and has feelings. After you get married, it does not mean you won't find another woman you like or fancy,” he said.
Hu said many politicians think that they can get away with affairs or flings because they have connections and know people who are willing to cover up for them.
“But on the other hand, you must be mindful that your enemies are waiting for you to make mistakes,” he said.
Johor Baru MP Datuk Shahrir Samad concurred with Hu, saying that it is hard to be good all the time.
”They (politicians) have human weaknesses. You can't assume they will not succumb to temptation.
“But there is a lot they have to sacrifice when they enter politics and become public figures. There are certain standards of practice they have to adhere to,” he said.
However, Shahrir said, it was not acceptable for politicians, especially those in public office, to have an affair, regardless of whether one was emotionally involved or not.
“I think we are all aware of the risks (of getting caught having an affair). If you are prepared to take the risks, then you have to be prepared to bear the consequences,” he said.
In agreement, DAP chairman and Bukit Gelugor MP Karpal Singh said that public confidence in a leader would be lost once his or her extra-marital affair is exposed.
“Politicians do not have a private life anymore. Everything you do is in the public domain. Of course it does affect (professional performance in the office). Public confidence is lost. It is harder to get people's respect,” he said.
Karpal Singh said those who are having affairs think they will not get caught, but with new technologies, it is easier for people to bug rooms with cameras.
“It (Power) gets to the head (of many politicians). There are a lot of distractions and temptations. Once you go (get elected) into office, you must stay away from all this,” he said.
Public vs private life
A former politician once involved in a video recording sex scandal empathised with Dr Chua and advised him to put it all behind him and move forward in life.
“Having gone through a bitter experience personally, I have now put behind what had happened to me and have progressed in life as a professional.
“Today, my life is centred around my family. Most of the people did not understand what I had gone through when the major dailies were highlighting my case,” he said, adding that to him, it was a personal issue that was blown out of proportion
As a public figure, a politician's sexual orientation and personal status – divorced, single, married, homosexual, transgender – is unfortunately still perceived as important by the people, pointed out Dr Yeoh.
“Although their personal life should not bear weight on how well they fulfil their public duty, unfortunately people take it as a measure.”
Human rights activist Zaitun Kassim concurred, highlighting that it is worse for female politicians, whose personal lives are under constant scrutiny. For female politicians, she added, being single or divorced are already scandalous to some members of the public.
“Wrong or right, people like to tie accountability and honesty in private life to their public life. If you can betray your family, how can you be trustworthy with the public?”
Where sex scandals are concerned, Zaitun opined that it has to do with Malaysians' attitude towards sex.
“I think it has more to do with the “ick” factor where sex is concerned, but I don't know if having sex education in schools to demystify it would help,” she said.
She however warns an issue that should not be overlooked is the invasion of one's privacy, be it a public figure or an ordinary member of the public.
“Although a politicians' misconduct is a grave issue, we should not let it divert us from another pressing matter – which is this invasion of people's privacy by criminals and those with bad intent. It is worrying to see how easy it is for people to bug someone's room or place hidden cameras in hotel and changing rooms.
“The Police must take action against them and the Government needs to look at having a Privacy Act and other acts to protect its citizens,” she added.
Ibrahim said that it is time politicians are aware of the “dangers” they face with the advent of technology.
“Hopefully, this will make them realise how they have be careful with their conduct, as in today's world it is not so easy to hide things from the public. They also have to be aware that it is so easy for anyone to photograph or video them and use it to frame or blackmail them,” he said.
More importantly, he hoped other politicians would follow Dr Chua's example in taking responsibility for his action.
“I hope that his resignation would set the bar for other politicians' accountability to the public. Now all the other politicians who have committed any misconducts – sexual or not – should take responsibility and resign.”
Zaid concurred, “More than sex, they should resign if found to have been associated with improper acts such as corruption, cheating and misusing public funds.”
Political sex scandals
Spotlight on international sex-capades
Compiled by Hariati Azizan
THE talk of the town is that if we were in France, the sex tape would have not have caused even an eyelid to bat. As stereotypical as that observation may sound, it contains more than a shard of truth.
In France, where it is common for heads of states to have second families hidden and a seductive manner is seen as a political edge, politicians’ private lives are just that, private.
Take the late former president François Mitterrand whose illegitimate daughter was revealed 18 years after she was born.
It was said that the middle-aged politician met the girl’s mother, an 18-year-old schoolgirl, Anne Pingeot, sometime in 1968 and used his friendship with her parents to later seduce her. When Ms Pingeot got pregnant, she was packed off to London to avoid a scandal. She later returned to France to give birth in secret and Mitterrand continued to care for her and child.
The double life that was kept from the French public for almost two decades, however, did not stop the French to vote Mitterrand as one of France’s greatest presidents in a poll recently.
The current French president Nicolas Sarkozy is perhaps the most open with his personal life. Divorcing his wife barely months after taking office, it nevertheless did not bring him any electoral backlash as one poll after the very public marriage break-up showed that 92% of the French population had not changed their opinion of him; 79% think the split insignificant in French politics. In fact, the majority could not be bothered about what was happening in his bedroom.
Now, the twice-married 52-year-old President is painting the continent red with his new girlfriend, model-turned-singer Carla Bruni.
Life in the neighbouring 10 Downing Street has not been as exciting. The biggest affair was former British Prime Minister John Major’s dalliances with his Junior Health Secretary Edwina Currie in their pre-Cabinet days. The only other memorable sex scandal was former home secretary David Blunkett resigning in 2004 after a series of embarrassing disclosures about his affair with a married American woman.
The mother of all sex scandals in the UK is none other than the Profumo Affair in 1963, which was dubbed as the Scandal of the Century. The imbroglio had the hallmarks of a salacious paperback: spies, call girls, aristocrats, sex, suicide, guns and lies. It brought down not only the rising politician, but also the government of the day.
Italian politics, meanwhile, embraced its sexuality openly with aspiring politicians using their sex tapes to advance their career such as porn-star-turned-politician La Cicciolina. She was elected to the Italian parliament in 1987, with 20,000 votes, representing the Lazio district of Rome. Now voted out of office, she continues to be active in politics, advocating a safe future without nuclear energy and with absolute sexual freedom.
Sex scandals are not a rarity in Asia either. In Taiwan, a former TV journalist and Taipei City councillor Chu Mei-feng was caught on video having sex with a married man in 2001 (see accompanying story). Closer to home, Indonesia was rocked by Golkar Party's religious affairs department head Yahya Zaini when a sex tape of him and a popular dangdut singer was circulated. Yahya has since resigned from the party.
And whoever said that Singapore was boring might change their mind after reading about Opposition MP Steve Chia who admitted to taking topless photographs of his Indonesian maid in 2003. He too has resigned.
Interestingly, the United States leads in the count of sex scandals, although many do not involve the actual act. Perhaps, this is the price politicians pay in its very celebrity-driven political scene.
Life goes on for Chu
Shanghai Bund by Chow How Ban
SHE is happily married with a romantic man, she hosts her own talk show and has learnt to set her priorities right by making time for herself and her loved ones.
Life today for TV programme host Chu Mei-feng is a lot calmer and happier, after going through a very public sex scandal six years ago.
The former Taiwanese politician who shot to fame when VCDs of her having sex with a married man in her house were widely distributed on the island, thanks to a betrayal by a close friend.
That episode cost Chu, then a Taipei city councillor with the New Party and a rising star, her political career and forced her into self-imposed exile.
But today, the 41-year-old has picked up the pieces and is keeping herself busy presenting the news and hosting the Mei-feng Sees the World talk show on Macau Asian Satellite TV, a job she took up in March last year.
She is also married to a man from Shenyang, China, whom she met while she was studying in Britain. He now runs their two coffeeshops in London.
“He often has holidays and we can e-mail, phone and text each other. Our relationship is quite romantic,” she said in a telephone interview from Macau.
After her exit from politics as a result of the incident, Chu went for a holiday in Thailand and released an autobiography, Confessions of Chu Mei-feng.
She then became a host for a TV talk show programme and made an appearance in a concert in Singapore.
She later moved away from media attention and studied in Britain where she met her husband, whom she discloses only as Simon.
“My arrival in the UK gave me a new life and my husband has been my pillar of strength,” she said.
The “special incident”, as she refers to the dreadful time in 2001, has taught her to protect herself and gain the self-confidence to live in what she describes as a complicated world.
She has also had a good look at her own values.
“Before that, my life was too busy. I was doing so many things for everyone but myself. I think it is important for me to learn how to do things for loved ones, those whom I care for a lot,” she said.
Chu said she had to stay away from Taiwan at that time because she was scared of people looking at her in a particular way.
However, she later discovered that she would have to return to Taiwan to face the reality.
Of the scandal, she said: “I can still remember at that time when I was alone and depressed. It is very difficult to remember every detail because it was too awful.
“I had no one to learn from. I didn’t have any textbook. It was a totally new experience for me. I needed to go my own way and overcome those black feelings.
“But after going through all this, I am now more confident of myself and know I have to really love myself and live a good life.”
Chu said she did not begrudge those behind her downfall.
“All I want is to continue with my life. I am still rebuilding my life. I don’t know how long this road of recovery will take – five years, 10 years or maybe a lifetime,” she said.
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