Malaysia's PM Muhyiddin gets high approval for Covid-19 handling but popularity slips

Of 3,415 voters polled from July 15 to Aug 10, 69 per cent approved of Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin's leadership. PHOTO: REUTERS

KUALA LUMPUR - Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin has been given the thumbs up by nearly seven out of 10 Malaysians, largely thanks to the government's handling of the coronavirus pandemic, but his popularity has slipped below 70 per cent for the first time since he took power in March.

Top pollster Merdeka Centre said on Wednesday (Sept 2) that a survey found that 69 per cent of 3,415 voters polled from July 15 to Aug 10 approved of his leadership.

The last time a premier scored higher was within the first 100 days of the Mahathir Mohamad administration amid the euphoria of Pakatan Harapan's (PH) shock May 2018 election win.

Some 93 per cent also said they were satisfied with the government's performance in managing the Covid-19 pandemic, 68 per cent for helping the needy and 61 per cent for running the economy.

Unsurprisingly, Tan Sri Muhyiddin scored much higher with bumiputera - a term used to collectively refer to the Malay majority and other indigenous tribes - with more than nine out of 10 supporting him, compared with other communities.

Only a third of Chinese approved of Mr Muhyiddin, who leads a government dominated by bumputera parties, including the three main Malay Muslim outfits - Umno, Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS) and the Premier's Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia.

"In our view, this increase of Malay voter support takes place on the back of a positive management of the Covid-19 pandemic, rapid response in dispensing financial aid to affected low-income households and businesses, as well as the latent satisfaction at seeing Malay political parties which had been in decades-long competition with one another finally coming together in a pact," Merdeka Centre chief Ibrahim Suffian said in a statement.

However, Merdeka Centre said the poll also found that that Mr Muhyiddin's popularity has slipped below 70 per cent - from as high as 74 per cent - for the first time since he took power on March 1. The dip in numbers justify ruling party leaders' push for early polls, as they seek to capitalise on positive sentiment over the government's handling of Covid-19.

But amid jostling between Bersatu and Umno - which ruled Malaysia for six decades since independence until 2018 - for leverage within the ruling pact ahead of fresh elections expected within months, there is widespread support among Malays for these parties to unite.

The survey showed that some 65 per cent and 68 per cent respectively want Umno and PAS to be part of Mr Muhyiddin's Perikatan Nasional (PN) coalition, while six in 10 say Bersatu should also be part of Muafakat Nasional (MN), the Malay Muslim interest platform set up by Umno and PAS last year.

The only coalition that the majority of Malaysians are satisfied with is PN, with 51 per cent saying they are happy with the pact. Happiness and dissatisfaction levels for BN are both at 40 per cent and similarly at 37 per cent for MN. For PH, now the main opposition coalition, only a quarter of Malaysians are happy with it.

Three-quarters of Malays are also happy with PN, versus 70 per cent for MN and 57 per cent for BN.

However, there is bad news for former premier Najib Razak, who remains popular among a segment of Malay supporters. There is more agreement with his July conviction for abuse of power in the 1Malaysia Development Berhad saga across all demographics than disagreement, and even among Malays, 57 per cent believe the High Court made the right decision.

Najib is appealing the verdict, which would rule him out from contesting the next election.

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