SINGAPORE - Opposition alliance Pakatan Harapan (PH) is the preferred coalition to run the federal government among slightly over one-third of West Malaysians, according to the latest survey by pollster Merdeka Center.
PH leader Anwar Ibrahim is also the preferred choice for Prime Minister candidate, although slightly over a quarter of the respondents in the Merdeka survey did not give an answer on their preferred choice for PM.
In the survey held between Nov 5 and 8, 35 per cent of respondents said they preferred PH to run the government, while 22 per cent preferred Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin’s Perikatan Nasional (PN) alliance and 21 per cent preferred Zahid Hamidi’s Barisan Nasional (BN).
Some 22 per cent did not have a preference or did not give an answer in the survey involving 1,067 people in Peninsular Malaysia.
The findings were revealed by Mr Ibrahim Suffian, co-founder of Merdeka Center, at a webinar organised by S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS) on Friday – just a week before Malaysians go to the polls on Nov 19.
Among respondents who are ethnic Malays – Malaysia’s majority race – 35 per cent preferred PN, whose biggest members are Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (Bersatu) and Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS).
Only 28 per cent backed BN to govern the country.
Among Chinese and Indian respondents, PH was their clear favourite.
Mr Ibrahim highlighted the growing support for PN among Malay respondents, especially among those aged 18 to 20, after nomination day on Nov 5. He said there was also a “strengthening of preference” for PN leader Muhyiddin, who is seen as having “paid the price for going against Najib over the 1MDB scandal”.
Mr Muhyiddin was sacked as Malaysia’s deputy prime minister in 2015 after he spoke up against then premier Najib Razak for his links to troubled state fund 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB).
“Muhyiddin is not seen to be a tainted candidate. Instead, he’s seen as a courageous leader who spoke truth to his boss and was punished for it,” Mr Ibrahim said.
He also pointed out that among Malay voters, Mr Muhyiddin’s standing was not hurt at all after his defection from PH in March 2020 in the so-called Sheraton Move, which led to the collapse of the elected government and the ensuing political chaos.
More than 80 per cent of the Malay respondents polled in May 2020 in fact thought the country was back on the right track, which showed their “tacit approval” for the Sheraton Move, he said.
With a cleaner image than Umno and conservative leaders who are still committed to the Malay political agenda at the helm, PN is a “fairly complete package” as far as the “average Malay” is concerned, Mr Ibrahim said.
On the other hand, BN appears to be losing some Malay support due to a number of reasons.
Umno president Zahid remains unpopular, with more than 75 per cent of respondents saying they were dissatisfied with his performance.
His decision to drop senior party figures as election candidates, especially those who have campaigned hard in the past three years after suffering losses in the last election, has also resulted in “internal strife and sabotage”.
“You do have some people who are holding back from supporting the candidates that are actually contesting,” Mr Ibrahim said, adding that some division chiefs might want to conserve resources for the Umno party election, which will be held in three to four months’ time. Umno will hold its internal polls after the general election.
He added that BN may be “eclipsed” if PN can capture more than 50 per cent of Malay votes. “They are not there yet but we have a week to go,” he added.
The more PN can take Malay swing votes from BN, the better it is for PH, Mr Ibrahim said.
He said that for PH, which is led by Mr Anwar Ibrahim, its “sweet spot” is to get at least 18 per cent of the Malay votes to recapture some marginal seats.
But if PN does capture half of the Malay votes, PAS is in fact the “real winner”, Mr Ibrahim said, as the component Islamist party will sweep nearly all of the seats with 70 to 80 per cent of Malay voters in their traditional strongholds in the north, the east coast and possibly some parts of Pahang and Perak too.
If PAS ends up with a bigger share of Malay votes than Umno, “that marks the end of one era and the beginning of another”, he said.