Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim has come under attack from some Malaysians after clips of his talk during a dialogue session organised by an influential US group went viral, one of which showed the moderator having to politely reprimand him for not answering her question.
Anwar was speaking during a session organised by the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), a think tank that speciliases in US foreign policy and international relations, comprising members ranging from prominent academics to well connected politicians, corporate figures and influential spokesmen.
He was one of many hosted by CFR on the sidelines of the recent UN General Assembly in New York, where many foreign government leaders took the opportunity to update prominent policy makers in the US about their economic and political directions in the hope of pitching their countries to investors as well as officials in Washington.
But a recording of the hour-long live session streamed by CFR showed the prime minister not addressing the topic at hand when questioned by the host, especially on his economic agenda since coming to power last year.
During his speech and answer to questions from the audience later, Anwar also praised CFR chairman Robert E Rubin, a former Treasury secretary, mentioning him at least six times.
At one point, the prime minister said he felt "a bit nervous and embarrassed" by Rubin's presence in the room.
"I have, you know, Bob (Rubin). I admire greatly, I mean, what you have done, the policies and the friendship. So forgive me for, you know, looking a bit too often at... (laughs)."
At one point, Anwar spent almost five minutes talking about his imprisonment as well as a conversation he claimed to have had with late South African freedom fighter Nelson Mandela.
This prompted moderator Mariko Silver, a former deputy assistant secretary for international policy under the Obama administration, to remind Anwar that he had not answered her question.
Extracts of the incident as well as other parts of the questions and answers that followed were soon re-posted as short clips on TikTok and YouTube, with thousands of comments questioning Anwar's ability to promote the country abroad.
Many said they cringed with embarrassment at Anwar's answers, especially when he spoke about his personal experience and attempted to lighten the conversation with humour.
"People want to know what is the plan for the country, not about some embarrassing past in order to get sympathy. The question about corruption is more like to test him because everyone knows who is beside him," Zalina Azmee commented on TikTok, in a jibe at the controversial decision by the prosecution to stop the corruption trial of Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi.
"What a joke... he looks clueless on economic agenda," Ibrahim Songbaht wrote on Facebook in one of the more polite comments from social media users, most of whom attacked the prime minister for his "poor performance in an important setting".
"The way he answered is out of context. Different question gets different answer," said one user on YouTube. "Not my PM."
"My guess, he was all the way (at the back of his mind) expecting she would ask about his life journey before becoming the prime minister. Hey man, this is the year 2023 not 1999," said another user on the platform, alluding to Anwar's frequent mentions of his fallout in 1998 with then prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad as well as his imprisonment for sodomy and power abuse.
"He should tag Rafizi along, maybe he could have presented some formulas," said user Wanakmar.
Others said Anwar's answers showed narcistic behaviour, while many resorted to name calling, accusing the prime minister of "spinning" and "self-delusion".
"Wait? Did he compare himself...to Mandela?" asked Oleen Hussin on TikTok.
"Anwar you are not even near as Mandela. He is a hero and you are a kaki pusing," retorted Daniel Yee in response to the clip on YouTube.
"No wonder Elon choose Thailand," said TikTok user Jack D Crook, referring to US billionaire Elon Musk's meeting with Thai Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin, after which the latter expressed confidence that carmaker Tesla would set up a EV manufacturing plant in his country.
Several government critics and TikTokers have since rehashed the video of the session with CFR, generating even more negative reactions from viewers.
"Here is a man who loves to hear his own voice and not answering a simple question nor giving a straight answer," wrote Ashburn.
Some also made comparisons between present leaders and Mahathir, who is known for taking on Western audiences when quizzed abroad.
"Seriously! Hmm, I must say that Tun Dr Mahathir is more charismatic, better prepared, can answer more intelligently and clearly," said Zain Alexander.
Meanwhile, Facebook user Ross Matnor urged Anwar to stop “playing the victim” by bringing up the past.
"Anwar seems to be reminiscing about his past more than anything else. If he thinks he will get away with screwing up the country simply because he was ill treated by Mahathir for 20 years, he has to realise that that ship has sailed. He is now in the driver's seat and he has no clue where we're going or how to get us there. He cannot be playing that victim of conspiracy card again.
"Whatever pity he received has been put to use to make him PM. If he does not perform he has no one else to blame but himself. And he is not performing so whatever that will come his way will be something he will truly deserve. This time it is all him. Cannot play victim anymore."