KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysia's Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad has rubbished claims by his ex-protege Najib Razak that a sex allegation surrounding a member of his current Cabinet team has been handled differently compared to the scandal in 1998.
Najib, who is facing a corruption trial, took to Twitter on July 24 to allude to contrasting treatments in the two scandals.
In the tweet, he said: "In 1998. This was a moral issue, not political issue. In 2019. This is a political issue, not moral issue."
Although he did not name anyone, most observers believed Najib was referring to Economic Affairs Minister Mohamed Azmin Ali and then Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim, who was sacked from government in 1998 before being jailed subsequently for sodomy and corrupt practices.
In the latest scandal, former Santubong youth chief of Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) Haziq Aziz had claimed video clips which went viral in multiple WhatsApp groups that included local as well as foreign journalists showed him having sex with Mr Azmin.
On July 20, Malaysia's Inspector-General of Police said the identities of the two men in the clips could not be fully ascertained.
In a blog post titled "Contradiction", Dr Mahathir said he has been accused of contradicting himself in his response to the recent sex scandal compared to events in 1998.
Dr Mahathir wrote on his personal blog Chedet.cc on Sunday (July 28): "There is no contradiction. The action taken in 1998 was not based on the video clip. That came later. The court had already made its decision.
"The subsequent videos did not influence the court or anyone else. It did not influence me," he added, referring to videos implicating Mr Anwar.
In an earlier post on his personal blog on July 23, Dr Mahathir had repeated his claim that the video clips in the recent scandal were circulated "clearly for political purposes, specifically to block the success of a particular individual".
Since the clips emerged, Mr Azmin has denied vehemently that he was one of the men involved, claiming it was a "nefarious plot" to ruin his reputation as well as his political career.
The scandal has ignited a feud between Mr Azmin and Mr Anwar, who had earlier called for his deputy at the PKR to resign as federal minister, if he is indeed found to be the one of the men in the sex clips.
Mr Anwar, the prime minister-in-waiting, is president of PKR, the largest component party of Malaysia's ruling Pakatan Harapan coalition.
After he made the call, Mr Azmin responded by saying Mr Anwar should mind his own affairs.
There has been speculation since that Mr Azmin would leave PKR, but Mr Anwar has dismissed such talk.
Meanwhile, Mr Haziq was arrested with five other people on July 14 for their alleged role in the scandal.
Dr Mahathir has promised to step down before the next general election, as agreed by the ruling coalition before last year's polls.
While Mr Anwar has been the named successor, Dr Mahathir, his former nemesis, has also said that whoever takes over must have the support of the majority, a statement seen to open the door to alternatives such as Mr Azmin.