Anwar Ibrahim has come under criticism over a "flirtatious" joke he made to an 18-year-old female student during one of his public dialogues with varsity students, where he said that he would have asked for her number if he were much younger.
"It was a classic and stunning display of discriminatory, bigoted and sexist language by the 75-year-old prime minister to the 18-year-old Adriana," said Bersatu lawyer Sasha Lyna Abdul Latif.
"What sort of example is the country's PM setting for the youth of the nation? That it is fine to ignore the intelligence and capacity of women, and instead treat them as an object of flirtation?" asked Sasha, who is the deputy chair of Bersatu's Legal and Constitution Bureau.
Anwar had made the joke at a dialogue session at Universiti Sains Islam Malaysia in Negeri Sembilan, when replying to questions on the economy and performance of the ringgit by a Form 6 student who introduced herself as Adriana.
Anwar began his answer by praising her on how clearly she relayed her questions, before saying: "Kalau saya muda, saya dah minta nombor telefon dah (If I were younger, I would have asked your number)."
The young moderator then followed up by saying, "Dato' Seri dah dapat, bagi dekat saya (When you get it, pass it to me)."
Sasha said Adriana had posed "serious, well-thought-out questions and deserved a proper answer", but Anwar's response was "inappropriate, discriminatory and sexist".
"Surely the same question would not have been asked if the questions were posed by a boy or a man. To sum up, it is never okay for a leader, and a leader of a nation at that, to utter such words to a student in the guise of being humorous. Anwar should have known better, and the episode reflects ill upon him," she added.
Sasha said Anwar's behaviour was the opposite of the "Madani" and other slogans that he has been promoting "from every forum and pulpit".
She urged women leaders in Anwar's Pakatan Harapan coalition as well as from the federal government to speak up against "this manifest example of sexism by their own leader".
"They must speak up for girls and women or be branded hypocrites," she said, adding that Anwar must publicly apologise to the student and those who attended the event.
On social media, Anwar was criticised for the joke.
"It is a joke. But is it fitting for a nation-state leader?" asked Hazar on Twitter.
"He has done this before with Amelia. Now, with a Form 6 student. This is not okay. It is wrong on so many levels," said Fatihah.
Another user said what was uttered by Anwar clearly falls under the offence of sexual harassment.
"If it happened in an office, the HR would have slapped a sexual harassment warning letter... all the time, and we keep letting him meet our youngsters," said a Twitter post from tsaji_peah.
Another said the scenario would have been different had it been a PAS leader who uttered such comments to the female student.
"If it were a PAS man who said that, there will be droves condemning him for flirting. But it is alright with our Bang Non, we will accept even sexual harassment as long as he gets to become the PM," said Mohammad Faris.