Obama’s star still shines in ASEAN

Barack Obama’s star quality shifted the focus of the event towards himself, and away from U.S. policy and its impacts.

U.S. President Barack Obama greeting an enthusiastic crowd after the Youth Town Hall at Universiti Malaya, Kuala Lumpur. Original image from Getty Images.

After waiting in the blazing afternoon heat for over an hour, I was finally seated in the Dewan Tunku Canselor, the iconic hall of Malaysia’s oldest university, along with several hundred other youths – people under the age of 35 – from Malaysia and other ASEAN countries.

It was a relief to get into the air-conditioned hall in Universiti Malaya, which was looking in tip-top condition. Two large flags, of Malaysia and the United States, hung side by side, covering the far wall. Rows of chairs lined the hall’s four sides. In the center, a square black stage, with a teleprompter on either side of a podium which bore the seal of the President of the United States.

There was a clear sense of anticipation in the air as we waited for the Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative Town Hall to begin. People were taking group pictures, tweeting about the who’s who in the hall, and whispering about the secret service agents. Member of Parliament Nurul Izzah was a popular side attraction, with audience members filing her way to get a selfie with the popular opposition politician.

Two hours had passed when a large entourage entered the press area – perhaps the journalists who had been covering the President’s prior event, a joint press conference with Prime Minister Najib Razak. The front row seats on stage-left began filling up. U.S. National Security Advisor Susan Rice and U.S. Ambassador to Malaysia Joseph Yun took their seats. We were asked to take ours. Continue reading