KUALA LUMPUR • Voter sentiment towards the Pakatan Harapan (PH) government is weak, a survey by pollster Merdeka Center found, with 61 per cent of Malaysians believing the country is heading in the wrong direction.
Only 26 per cent felt the country was moving on the right track.
Economic matters were at the top of their minds, the pollster found, followed by leadership issues, administration, politics and racial issues.
Said Merdeka: "The negative mood is quite pervasive, encompassing all ethnic groups and major voter segments."
And meanwhile, most Malays - Malaysia's majority community - prefer Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad to lead the country instead of Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, according to the survey conducted in November.
The findings will have political ramifications for the governing PH coalition as the clock ticks on the transition pledge agreed upon before its unexpected 2018 election win.
The five most important issues facing those polled were inflation (53 per cent), job opportunities (22.2 per cent), corruption (20.8 per cent), preservation of Malay rights and fair treatment of all races (20.5 per cent) and political instability (17.8 per cent), according to the survey.
"Confidence in PH to run the economy continues to decline as discourse over government expenditure, sale of (national) assets and uncertainties on proposed public infrastructure initiative (for example, toll road nationalisation) mounts," Merdeka said.
Merdeka said that while government leaders faced a steep learning curve, and some are still climbing, PH's "opponents are consolidating and mounting daily challenges, particularly on the Malay front".
Part of the survey was concerning the political transition, with Tun Dr Mahathir expected to hand over the prime ministership to Mr Anwar.
But some 42 per cent of Malaysians surveyed picked Dr Mahathir, 94, compared with less than a third who selected Mr Anwar, president of the coalition component party Parti Keadilan Rakyat.
Among Malays, who are the majority in 122 out of 222 parliamentary wards, the gap widens to 58 per cent against 13 per cent.
However, the increasing dissatisfaction among Chinese and Indians over perceived pro-Malay policies since Malaysia's unprecedented change of government in May 2018 see 58 per cent and 62 per cent of the two minority groups wanting an Anwar administration, versus 20 per cent and 14 per cent for Dr Mahathir.
In the report seen by The Straits Times, Merdeka said there are "increased uncertainties over nature, timing and outcome of the transfer of premiership" and pointed to "internal dynamics and friction between the two leaders" leading to "increased speculation and suspicion".
A positive note for Mr Anwar is that his overall backing has improved from 28 per cent last year, and a low of 16 per cent in July, while Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia chairman Mahathir's support has ebbed from 47 per cent last year, and a high of 57 per cent in July.
Despite low support for Mr Anwar, Malaysians appear more inclined towards PH carrying out its transition pledge.
Half of them want the handover to happen versus 41 per cent who say there should be no change until the next election due in 2023.
A quarter of those polled want Dr Mahathir to relinquish the premiership immediately, and the same number say he should do so by May - the two-year mark which Mr Anwar, who had to be pardoned from a controversial sodomy conviction after the 2018 election, and his allies have set as their expected timeline.
However, Dr Mahathir has firmly said he wants to lead Malaysia in hosting the Apec summit this year, therefore ruling out an exit before November.