Approval sinks for Malaysian PM Najib's government

Jalan Alor, a popular food street in Kuala Lumpur. Issues such as cost of living, unemployment, and the impact of the goods and services tax, levied in April, topped Malaysians' list of grouses in Merdeka Centre's latest poll.
Jalan Alor, a popular food street in Kuala Lumpur. Issues such as cost of living, unemployment, and the impact of the goods and services tax, levied in April, topped Malaysians' list of grouses in Merdeka Centre's latest poll.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Nearly 4 out of 5 Malaysians unhappy, mainly due to govt's handling of economy: Survey

Nearly four out of five Malaysians are unhappy with Prime Minister Najib Razak's government, according to an independent survey of voters, with disappointment also widespread among the ruling Umno's core Malay majority vote bank.

The respected Merdeka Centre pollster briefed financial sector analysts last week on the results of its survey, saying anger at the administration was largely due to its handling of the economy.

The ringgit, down some 20 per cent against the US dollar, has been Asia's worst-performing currency this year. And economic growth has slipped in a year when the government has had to cut spending, due to an expected shortfall in petroleum-based revenue.

Only 17 per cent of respondents were satisfied with the government's handling of the economy, as opposed to 78 per cent who were dissatisfied in an August poll of voters across Peninsular Malaysia.

Issues such as cost of living, unemployment and the impact of the goods and services tax levied on general consumption in April topped the list of grouses.

  • Support for govt down since 2013 election

  • Malaysians' overall happiness with their government has steadily dropped since the 2013 General Election, when it hovered at around 50 per cent.

    Last year it was largely under 40 per cent, the Merdeka Centre pollster said, according to its survey released earlier this week.

    This plummeted to 23 per cent in the middle of this year.

    Worryingly, for the Umno- led Barisan Nasional ruling coalition, happiness among the majority Malay community - a reliable vote bank for Umno - has also dipped, from more than 50 per cent last year to 31 per cent currently.

    This is largely driven by the economy, with over two-thirds of respondents citing it as the top issue.

    According to the poll, dissatisfaction over how the government has handled the economy has risen to 80 per cent, from under 60 per cent for most of last year.

"We reckon that such unhappiness will persist through 2016, judging from further subsidy withdrawals. Tackling unemployment could be a challenging issue in 2016," UOB KayHian research head Vincent Khoo said in a report yesterday.

"Given that the federal government used to hire 60,000 new graduates annually, the ongoing downsizing by many banks, and small and medium-sized enterprises could affect employment," he added.

Only 23 per cent of Malaysians were happy with the government. Support from the majority Malays, who have, up to last year, been largely supportive of the Umno-led Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition, has sunk to 31 per cent.

Only 5 per cent of the significant Chinese minority said they were happy with Datuk Seri Najib's government. Tellingly, the Chinese also indicated a higher awareness of troubles surrounding state investor 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) and just over a third said they were well-versed on the topic.

Mr Najib has faced calls to resign over 1MDB's struggles in meeting obligations from a RM42 billion (S$14 billion) debt piled up in five years up to March last year. The attacks grew louder after it was revealed in July that US$700 million (S$964 million) allegedly linked to the firm, whose advisory board Mr Najib chairs, was deposited into his private accounts.

He has denied any wrongdoing, and the government says the money is political funding from unnamed Middle Eastern donors.

Despite criticism from influential former premier Mahathir Mohamad and other major BN politicians, such as Umno deputy president Muhyiddin Yassin, Mr Najib is unlikely to be ousted in the short term as most BN leaders have publicly supported him, analysts said.

But the shrinking Malay support over bread and butter issues may eventually force Umno's hand ahead of an election that is due in 2018.

BN won 47 per cent of the popular vote at the 2013 general election.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 17, 2015, with the headline 'Approval sinks for Najib govt'. Print Edition | Subscribe