By Joseph Sipalan
PORTDICKSON (Reuters) – Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad called on Friday for unity in his ruling coalition, saying his administration could risk losing power due to infighting, as a sex scandal involving a senior minister worsened divisions in the alliance.
Tensions within the coalition have risen after sex videos purporting to show Economic Affairs Minister Mohamed Azmin Ali, seen as a potential successor to Mahathir, in bed with another man were circulated last month.
Sodomy is a crime in Malaysia and in the past, Anwar Ibrahim, who Mahathir has named as his successor, spent about a decade in jail under the law.
The videos have led to finger pointing within the Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) party, the biggest component of Mahathir’s ruling alliance, and raised concerns of a turbulent transition from the 94-year-old leader.
Anwar and Azmin are the president and deputy president in PKR. Azmin has denied he was in the videos and has said he is convinced the videos were the work of PKR insiders. Anwar has called it “slander” to suggest he had anything to do with the leaked footage.
On Thursday, police said a leader of a political party was behind the videos, which were widely distributed to journalists and politicians via WhatsApp last month. They did not identify the individual or the party.
Speaking at PKR’s leadership retreat on Friday, Mahathir said his coalition’s leaders must not lose sight of responsibilities and expectations. He did not make a reference to the sex videos or any individual.
“We must also ask ourselves whether we will continue to get the people’s mandate if they see us constantly fighting for power, when without realising that it is the fighting that will cause us to lose power,” he said at Port Dickson, about 90 km (55 miles) south of the capital Kuala Lumpur.
Azmin did not attend the leadership retreat, though Anwar was present.
Malaysian police have said the sex videos purporting to show Azmin were probably authentic rather than doctored, but have also said that facial recognition tests were “not able to associate the perpetrator in the video with the individual in question”.
On Thursday, Anwar brushed aside talk of a challenge from Azmin for the premiership and said he had the support needed to become prime minister.
(Reporting by Joseph Sipalan; Editing by A. Ananthalakshmi and Frances Kerry)