KUALA LUMPUR - Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin's approval ratings have barely dipped despite Malaysia experiencing its worst wave of coronavirus infections earlier this year, with nearly seven in 10 still giving him the thumbs up.
While 67 per cent of over 2,000 voters surveyed by top pollster Merdeka Centre from March 31 to April 12 said they were satisfied with Tan Sri Muhyiddin, 83 per cent of the crucial Malay electorate - which forms the majority in more than half of Parliament's 222 seats - approved of his premiership.
"The survey indicates... signs of optimism after the reopening of the economy along with the commencement of the vaccination roll-out," the centre said in a statement on Friday (April 23).
"This is manifested in the still strong approval for the Prime Minister and reasonable confidence in the handling of the pandemic and economy - despite the stressed conditions voters report for their own personal financial conditions and their perception of the economy."
Economic concerns (57 per cent) and the spread of Covid-19 (16 per cent) were ranked as the top concerns in the poll.
Merdeka Center has also consistently found more Malaysians expressing a decline rather than an improvement in their personal finances and the national economy for the past seven years.
Yet, satisfaction with the Muhyiddin administration's economic management has been positive throughout, except in January, when only 45 per cent said they were happy, from a high of 65 per cent last May.
Backing for the government's economic chops is now at 51 per cent.
When satisfaction with the government's handling of the pandemic was at a high of 93 per cent in August last year - daily infections were often in single digits - Mr Muhyiddin's approval was at 69 per cent.
A low of 63 per cent backing the Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia president in January coincided with happiness in his government's Covid-19 performance dropping to 53 per cent. Strict movement curbs had to be reimposed and new cases reached nearly 6,000 then.
Faith in the administration's pandemic response rebounded to 70 per cent this month as daily infections dropped below 1,000 although the 2,000 mark has been breached the whole of the past week.
Mr Muhyiddin's popularity remains a key consideration for his fledgling Perikatan Nasional (PN) coalition, especially after Umno - the largest party in his government - declared it would go its separate way once an election is called.
The premier has vowed that fresh polls would be held once a much-criticised emergency, declared ostensibly to see off the pandemic, is lifted.
The King declared the seven-month-long emergency in January on the Muhyiddin administration's advice, allowing the premier to suspend Parliament and avoid challenges to his majority which has been in doubt since the turn of the year.
Apart from Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS), the Bersatu-led PN is largely viewed as not having a strong grassroots machinery ahead of its firstgeneral election.
Instead, Umno hopes to reclaim its dominance of Malaysian politics, which ended after six uninterrupted decades when the Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition - which Bersatu was part of - shockingly won the 2018 polls.
Many analysts believe a three-way battle between PH, PN and the Umno-led Barisan Nasional will be so tightly fought that an outright majority will not be won on election night.