Popularity wanes, but Muhyiddin gets nod for handling of Covid-19

Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin has been given the thumbs up by nearly seven in 10 Malaysians, thanks largely to his 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 yesterday 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 victory in the May 2018 election.

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 among bumiputera - a term used to collectively refer to the Malay majority and other indigenous tribes - with more than nine in 10 supporting him, compared with other communities.

Only a third of Chinese approved of Mr Muhyiddin, who leads a government dominated by bumiputera parties, including the three main Malay-Muslim outfits - Umno, Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS) and his 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 lowincome 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 survey also found 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 justifies the push by leaders of the ruling parties for early polls, as they seek to capitalise on positive sentiment over the government's handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

But amid the jostling between Bersatu and Umno - which ruled Malaysia for six decades 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 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 Umno-led Barisan Nasional (BN) are both at 40 per cent and similarly for MN at 37 per cent. Only a quarter of Malaysians are happy with PH, now the main opposition coalition.

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

Meanwhile, former premier Najib Razak fared poorly, with more people across all demographics agreeing with his graft conviction in July than disagreeing.

Even among the Malays, 57 per cent believe the High Court made the right decision.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 03, 2020, with the headline 'Popularity wanes, but Muhyiddin gets nod for handling of Covid-19'. Print Edition | Subscribe