Watching Malaysia’s House of Cards unfold

Philip Golingai, The Star

PEOPLE have asked me which television series best represents contemporary Malaysian politics.

Some say it is Game of Thrones. For me, no.

Yes, there are some similarities. For example, the show is about noble dynasties vying to claim the Iron Throne of the Seven Kingdoms.

In Malaysian politics, we have ambitious politicians fighting to be prime minister.

But Game of Thrones is fantasy. There are dragons, Wildlings (savages who worship the Old Gods of the Forest), the Unsullied (elite eunuch-warriors), White Walkers (an ancient race of formerly-human ice creatures) and direwolves (unusually large and intelligent species of wolves).

We don’t have such characters or creatures in Malaysia. We only have zombies (those who blindly follow their political idols).

For me, House of Cards is the TV series that has the most elements that parallel what goes on in politics here.

It is an American political thriller set in Washington DC about congressman Frank Underwood (played by Kevin Spacey), who is married to ambitious Claire Underwood (Robin Wright). The husband-and-wife team plots for him to be President of the United States.

Themes in the show include manipulation, betrayal, power play and ruthless ambition, which are things Malaysian politics doesn’t lack.

In House of Cards, Frank had a threesome with Claire and a male secret service agent. He also had a gay sexual relationship with his trainer. Some Malaysians would say that sounds very familiar.

Since 1998, after then prime minister and Umno president Datuk Seri Dr Mahathir Mohamad sacked his deputy prime minister and Umno deputy president Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim for abuse of power and sodomy, we’ve been shocked (and for some, disgusted) with the use of allegations of sodomy to bring a politician down.

Anwar was accused of Sodomy 1.0 in 1998 and Sodomy 2.0 in 2008.

After Pakatan Harapan won GE14, the PKR leader, who was serving a five-year jail term since February 2015 after he had been convicted of sodomising his former aide Mohd Saiful Bukhari Azlan, was released after receiving a royal pardon.

Just like House of Cards, Malay­sian politics is filled with unpredictable twists and turns. Some political pundits were expecting a Sodomy 3.0 to stand in the way of a Pakatan promise that the PKR president will replace Dr Mahathir as prime minister.

Instead, in June, PKR deputy president Datuk Seri Azmin Ali was embroiled in a sex video that went viral.

Haziq Abdullah Abdul Aziz, who was Santubong PKR Youth chief at the time, admitted that he was one of the two men in the video. He alleged that the other man was Azmin.

The Economic Affairs Minister has denied the allegation, calling the sex video a nefarious plot to bring him down politically.

A twist in the Malaysian House of Cards – after Pakatan formed the Federal Government, some political pundits predicted that there would be a civil war in PKR – has happened. To the surprise of those uninformed armchair political observers who thought that PKR is a party solidly supporting Anwar to be Malaysia’s eighth prime minister, the events on Wednesday and Thursday revealed that it was a party that is retak menanti belah (a crack waiting to split).

The gloves are off. It is now open war between Team Anwar and Team Azmin.

In gist, Anwar told Azmin to resign if he was conclusively identified as one of the two men in the sex video. Azmin hit back. He told his party president to “look at the man in the mirror”.

“Read my lips … Tell him he must look at the man in the mirror,” he said. “Ask Anwar to reflect on his own actions (muhasabah).”

Another hot question people have asked me is whether a gay sex scandal can derail a political career.

Some say that it can’t. They point to Anwar as an example. He had to go through Sodomy 1.0 and Sodomy 2.0 and yet there’s a promise that he will be PM after Dr Mahathir.

My answer is, yes, Anwar might be the next prime minister, but Sodomy 1.0 and Sodomy 2.0 almost killed him politically.

Don’t forget that in 1998, he was a heartbeat away from becoming prime minister. As deputy prime minister, he could have ousted Dr Mahathir if he had not miscalculated. But fate had other plans.

It was down the political ladder for Anwar. He ended up in jail not for sodomy but for abuse of power in 1999. He got out of jail in 2004.

In 2008, he was hit with Sodomy 2.0. He was finally found guilty and jailed in 2015.

In total, he spent at least eight years in jail.

Can the sex video pull down Azmin from the political Snakes and Ladders game?

That looks unlikely as long as Dr Mahathir stands by his man.

If it is fated, Azmin might be deputy prime minister in a Cabinet reshuffle around Hari Raya Haji. Or a dark horse might gallop ahead to the DPM finish line.

The scriptwriters of House of Cards can plot whatever twists and turns they want for the political drama but in real politics, what I’ve learnt is this: Man proposes, God disposes.