What principles are being defended on Elizabeth Wong’s behalf?
OVER the past few weeks of intense political developments from Perak to Selangor, and the resulting flurry of news-making, one thing remains clear.
We are a nation of leaders short on principles.
Whether upcoming or high-ranking, whether from the Pakatan Rakyat or the Barisan Nasional, whether women or men, the kind of rhetoric we’ve been hearing about a host of issues has been disappointing.
Specifically, in two cases that have jostled for the headlines recently, I am convinced that as a nation, we sorely need principled leadership.
In my previous column, the principle of democracy and the rakyat’s right to choose were raised in response to the numerous demands for the Sultan of Perak’s decision to be respected and unchallenged. The way I see it as a citizen, cries of treason, sedition, banishment, incarceration, and murder are too easy a cover for a lack of respect for the democratic principles our nation was founded on.
The sidelining of other important principles has also been evident in the recent furore over the exposure of intimate photos of Elizabeth Wong.
What if Wong consented?
The minute it was publicly known that intimate photos of Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) politician Wong were making their rounds, the outrage was instant.
Both the political and public indignation at the distribution of the Bukit Lanjan assemblyperson and Selangor executive councillor (exco)’s private photos were necessary and vital.
But, what exactly were the principles being defended on Wong’s behalf?
Teresa Kok: Wong’s situation no different from being a victim of a peeping Tom
DAP’s Teresa Kok, who is also Wong’s colleague in the Selangor exco, fumed that Wong’s situation was no different from having a peeping Tom install a camera in one’s bathroom to take one’s pictures in the nude.
PAS spiritual advisor Datuk Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Mat echoed Kok’s defence of Wong, saying he did not see any justification for Wong to resign as an elected representative. “From what I understand from press reports, the pictures were taken by an intruder who had entered her house. So it is not her fault but the intruder’s.”
Even the MCA came out strongly in support of Wong. MCA Wanita national chairperson Chew Mei Fun condemned what happened to Wong because the photographing of “bodily parts without (a person’s) consent or knowledge is against the law and punishable under the Penal Code”.
Perhaps these political leaders were framing their defence based on what Wong herself explained to the media. Nevertheless, defending Wong solely on the premise that the photos were taken without her consent is narrow-minded and tenuous.
Are we saying that Wong is only worth defending if the photos were taken without her consent? What if Wong fully consented to having her photos, some of which have yet to emerge, taken? What if new photos and potentially a video, show Wong as an active and willing participant in the recording of intimate acts with her partner or partners?
Would she still be worth defending?
See, the principle of the matter should be that Wong has every right to engage in whatever bedroom antics she wants to as an adult.
The principle that needs defending isn’t just an individual’s right to privacy from peeping Toms. It should and must be about an individual’s right to the privacy to do whatever she chooses to in her bedroom with another consenting adult.
If we understood what that right meant, we would also acknowledge that our Penal Code is a mockery in that it outlaws sodomy and oral sex even between consenting adults.
That no move has been made to amend our Penal Code demonstrates just how little respect the national leadership places on the right of consenting adults to engage in whatever bedroom activities they so choose.
PKR’s position troubling
But it’s not just the lack of principled leadership from the Barisan Nasional government. No less than Wong’s own party, PKR, is demonstrating that they lack a firm grasp of the principle at stake.
Quotes by Azmin Ali and Syed Husin Ali
In an immediate response to the issue, PKR vice-president Azmin Ali was nothing less than judgemental of his party colleague. He was quoted as saying: “We don’t want to know if these are old or new nude pictures. She must explain to us and if she is really guilty of having posed or was involved in the taking of these pictures, we will not hesitate to take action.”
He added that the party would not compromise on disciplinary action. “We will leave it to the menteri besar to decide if she is guilty or not as he is the head of the state,” he said.
Azmin subsequently softened his stand, but his default reaction reveals a particular disrespect for an individual’s right to a life of her choice. It also demonstrates a stringent set of moral standards and acceptable sexual behaviours that the party seems set to impose on its members.
Even PKR deputy president Dr Syed Husin Ali has said that the party’s continued support of Wong will depend on the content of any new photographs which may surface.
How exactly Wong’s case will finally play out within her party and the larger political landscape is left to be seen. For now, the support of her political peers is shaky at best unless it is evident that Wong herself conforms to the standards of sexual morality being espoused in her defence.
One must also question the way support for Wong from Selangor Menteri Besar (MB) Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim and from a swathe of citizens who have initiated signature campaigns has been expressed.
It would seem that both the MB and outraged citizens have come to Wong’s defence because she is an “exemplary exco” and has a good performance record as an elected representative. Most often cited is her passion for protecting the environment.
But if the principle involved is to defend Wong because she does her job well, what if she didn’t? What if Wong was a lazy and incompetent elected representative?
Under different circumstances, would the petition have as many signatures?
Would PKR and the MB have accepted her resignation instead of asking her to reconsider her decision? Would the rakyat still distribute and deliver signed memorandums in her support?
Somehow, I suspect that the responses would not be the same. And if my sense is right, then that would be a tragedy.
Because it would really nail the coffin for me in that our society would find it expedient to defend an individual only if he or she were a “victim” and were likeable.
And that, for me, would be a sad indictment of how little principles matter to us as a nation.
Jacqueline Ann Surin believes that whatever consenting adults get up to in their bedrooms is their business. She also believes that if our leaders were guided by principles, it would make for a better, kinder and safer Malaysia.