Small signs of dissent during Obama’s town hall in Malaysia
A student leaders holds up a sign as President Barack Obama leaves after an interaction at the Young Southeast Asian Leadership Initiative (YSEALI) Town Hall during a visit to University of Malaya in Kuala Lumpur on April 27, 2014. (Getty Images)
April 27th, 2014
09:13 AM ET
7 months ago

Small signs of dissent during Obama’s town hall in Malaysia

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia (CNN) – In a country with a questionable human rights track record that has left some Malaysians hesitant to speak openly against their government, there were small signs of dissent during President Barack Obama’s town hall forum at the University of Malaya on Sunday.

And they literally were small signs - as Obama spoke about the importance of showing respect for those he disagrees with, several audience members stood and displayed handheld signs.

“For example there’s a note over there,” Obama said. “I don’t know what those young people are putting a note about.”

The signs included “R4BIA,” an Islamist symbol for a new Muslim brotherhood and the words “NO TPPA,” in opposition of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement, which Obama is in Asia to promote.

The silent protest lasted only seconds before security guards removed the signs and asked the students to sit down.

“We want the government itself, the Malaysian government, to reconsider. To not sign the TPPA. Because we believe if they sign the TPPA, they actually sign away our future,” said student protestor Adam Fistival Wilfrid after the forum.

The relatively bold move – by Malaysian standards – of disrupting a highly promoted appearance by the first sitting U.S. president in 48 years is a sign of Malaysia’s changing political climate.

During last year’s elections, the Opposition Party came closer than ever to unseating the dominant Barisan Nasional (BN) Party, which has controlled the Malaysian parliament for decades but has seen its power erode in recent years.

Other students in attendance said they hope Obama’s visit will encourage more government transparency and open discourse.

“With this attention, I hope that it will keep the government more accountable to its actions. I also hope that some positive change will come from this attention,” said Malaysian student Kelvin Yee.


Filed under: President Obama
soundoff (10 Responses)
  1. don in albuquerque

    Who cares what these little insignificant foreign countries think of us? We haven't for decades. We'll push around whom we want, whenever we want.......for now.

    April 27, 2014 09:33 am at 9:33 am |
  2. Gurgyl

    --what do these guys want–more H1-B visas to enter?

    April 27, 2014 11:09 am at 11:09 am |
  3. harry leg

    Another step by Obama to destroy the USA and it's middle class.

    April 27, 2014 11:34 am at 11:34 am |
  4. Spgfld Tom

    The students 'hope Obama's visit will encourage more government transparency and open discourse".......Obams has done nothing to encourage "government transparency and open discourse" in the U.S. why would they think he would bring that to their nation? Have they never heard of Eric Holder and Lois Lerner? Have their not heard the hatred and demonization spouted by Zany Uncle Joe Biden and Harry Reid? What poor mis-guided souls they are!

    April 27, 2014 11:57 am at 11:57 am |
  5. anthny76

    Maybe the Malaysian Gov should've been forthcoming from the start, and cooperate with the Chinese and others searching for the plane, instead of playing dumb for 2 weeks. Obama is wasting his time going there. He can't do much, the people are pissed, and frankly, id rather see any money or resources used domestically...

    April 27, 2014 02:02 pm at 2:02 pm |
  6. Chris Asking Question

    Does President Obama want to destabilize Malaysia as well? It seems that every time he speaks about another nation's human rights matters, a civil war breaks out.

    April 27, 2014 06:25 pm at 6:25 pm |
  7. Sarah/Dumfries,VA

    I dont understand why they did not put those idiots Malaysian students out?im pissed

    April 27, 2014 07:35 pm at 7:35 pm |
  8. dcb

    @harry leg
    Another step by Obama to destroy the USA and it's middle class.

    Yeah Obama why do you want to raise minimum wage to $10.10 an hour , you will destroy USA and the middle class.

    April 27, 2014 08:49 pm at 8:49 pm |
  9. al

    Obama needs to keep his big nose out of everyone's business......starting in America FIRST!!!!!

    April 28, 2014 07:45 am at 7:45 am |
  10. al

    Transparency????????? Obama and Holder are the poster children for Secrecy and lies !!!!!!!!

    April 28, 2014 07:46 am at 7:46 am |