Malaysian sex scandal: Slick and systematic operation, says columnist
Conspiracy theories say video implicating minister may be part of plan to press Dr Mahathir to commit to transition date
Malaysian Economic Affairs Minister Azmin Alihas denied being one of two men engaged in a sex act in a dimly lit hotel room in Sandakan and intends to take legal action against his accuser, Mr Muhammad Haziq Abdul Aziz.
Mr Haziq's "confession" that he was the man in the video with Mr Azmin was jaw-dropping, to say the least. He is daring and also quite shameless to make an admission like this in a country where homosexual acts are punishable by law.
"The infrastructure that is supporting Haziq suggests a guerilla-style operation," said a political insider.
Gutter politics, honey trap, a sting - call it whatever you like, it came across as a slick and systematic operation.
Mr Haziq, a tall and well-groomed lawyer, is also the Santubong Parti Keadilan Rakyat Youth chief and principal private secretary to Deputy Primary Industries Minister Shamsul Iskandar Mohd Akin.
This could be one of the most intriguing cases ever in the sense that Mr Haziq did not have to be flushed out or pressured to reveal himself.
He seemed more than eager to come out of the closet and tell his side of the story.
There is little doubt that there are people, perhaps influential ones, behind Mr Haziq.
"There is something bigger going on behind the scenes to destroy a career. On the other hand, there must be hidden hands, very powerful ones, protecting the chap," said a corporate lawyer from Penang.
It does not take much to see that this may also have to do with the prickly transition plan.
The buzz among the inner circle of Pakatan Harapan is that the transition plan was supposed to be put in motion after the end of the Syawal month (Syawal is after the fasting month of Ramadan).
Dribs and drabs have been trickling out from various Pakatan leaders about the need to confirm exactly when Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad will pass the baton to Mr Anwar Ibrahim.
Pakatan leaders wanted something more concrete because the vague handover date was not good for investor confidence, and some leaders were not confident if it would really take place.
The plan, according to sources, was to press Dr Mahathir to commit to a transition date after the Hari Raya celebrations.
Sources said the coalition leaders wanted the Prime Minister to announce by August that Mr Anwar would be joining the Cabinet.
If all went well, Mr Anwar's Cabinet position, presumably to replace Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail as deputy prime minister, would be executed by the end of the year.
With Mr Anwar as the No. 2, Dr Mahathir would then continue till the middle or end of 2020.
The Pakatan leaders are not out to push him away but they want a clear-cut handover plan.
But conspiracy theories are now bubbling to the surface given the uncanny timing of the bombshell video implicating Mr Azmin.
Was the sex allegation aimed at getting rid of a potential rival for the job of prime minister?
Mr Anwar was in pole position but Mr Azmin, a blue-eyed boy of Dr Mahathir, was also seen as a potential candidate.
The speculation is that unless Mr Azmin is out of the way, Dr Mahathir may be tempted to elevate him in the Cabinet, especially if he decides to retaliate against the pressure to pin him down to a transition date.
But the video and subsequent confession by Mr Haziq have done grievous damage to Mr Azmin. His chances at the top job may have been shattered.
"Some are writing off (the minister) as finished but I would not be so hasty. My gut feeling is that it is not over," said a political insider.
"There is going to be more and you need to watch out for what Dr Mahathir may do next."
Dr Mahathir is not going to take it lying down if he sees this as a move to tie his hands and restrict his options.
An angry Chedet (Dr Mahathir's pen name) will be a dangerous thing.
This article has been edited for length. The writer is a regular commentator with The Star. The Star is a member of The Straits Times media partner Asia News Network, an alliance of 24 news media entities.