MCA leader blasts drone 'warfare' against him

A camera that can be attached to drones such as the one here.

KUALA LUMPUR - In Malaysian politics, sex videos, poison-pen letters and even allegations of triad links often surface around the time of party elections.

Now there is a soaring addition to the list of seamy political tactics - surveillance drones.

The drones, the size of toy helicopters - with remote controls and attached cameras - are available for a few hundred ringgit and mostly bought by hobbyists.

Dr Wee Ka Siong, a leader of the Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA) who is seeking the post of deputy president in December's party polls, said he found one - called a hexacopter drone - marooned on a balcony of his home last week.

Without naming names, he concluded that his bungalow was being surreptitiously filmed by his political enemies hoping to find some evidence of financial irregularities.

MCA is the second largest political party in Prime Minister Najib Razak's ruling Barisan Nasional.

The 64-year-old party is fighting for political survival, after a dismal performance in the general election in May, when it won just seven parliamentary seats, down from 15 in 2008.

The next MCA leader may well oversee its revival or demise.

Dr Wee said his neighbour's son had alerted him to the drone found stuck on the second-floor balcony of his bungalow two weeks ago.

"Am I a terrorist? This is an invasion of privacy. The perpetrators have no right to do this," he said at a press conference last week.

Analysts said there will probably be more such "surveillance" tactics, linking them to a wider trend of voters holding those in public office to higher standards.

"But there is a fine line between a smear campaign and holding a politician to higher standards of behaviour," political analyst Oh Ei Sun from Singapore's S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies told The Straits Times.

A check on Dr Wee's high-end Bukit Tiara neighbourhood found the gated community to be surrounded by a one-storey-high wall and patrolled by guards. Intruders are turned away.

Bukit Tiara homes range in size from 5,700 sq ft to 12,000 sq ft. They are valued at RM500 (S$194) per sq ft, fuelling rumours of the net worth of the MCA leader, a former education minister.

Dr Wee, who is chief of MCA's youth wing, has said he bought his home four years ago for RM1.8 million on a RM1.4 million loan.

The culture of poison-pen letters as a smear tactic in Malaysia goes back to the 1970s.

In 2008, former Cabinet minister and MCA party leader Datuk Seri Ong Tee Keat lodged a police report against a poison-pen letter which alleged he owned 16 properties worth RM21 million.

The type of remote-controlled drone - with six or four rotors attached to a frame of styrofoam or other light material - that landed on Dr Wee's house is easily available at online retail sites such as lelong.com.my or eBay Malaysia for as low as RM144.

One key feature in higher-end models that cost RM1,200 or more enables the user to "feed" video footage from an onboard camera to a smartphone.

However, they are not easy to fly. A hobbyist who only wanted to be known as Rizal Ikhwan said he has been contemplating using these drones for an aerial photography business.

"But learning to control them takes long practice. Don't be fooled by what you see on TV," said the 34-year-old film-maker.

Analysts said Dr Wee is being cautious.

After all, his boss, MCA chief Chua Soi Lek, had his political career nearly ruined after a hidden video camera recorded the married doctor having sex with his mistress in 2008.

In 2009, former Selangor Menteri Besar Mohamed Khir Toyo got into trouble when aerial footage of his mansion in Shah Alam, 30 minutes from Kuala Lumpur surfaced. In 2011, he was convicted of graft related to the property's purchase at a reduced price.

Said Dr Oh: "All these scandals must be distinguished between smear campaigns and whistleblowing. But often it's a combination of the two."

lestkong@sph.com.sg


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