KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 31 – Datuk Seri Najib Razak has nothing to worry about despite the plunge in approval ratings, analysts say, citing that the percentage is within expectations. They said with the next general election still four years away, the Najib administration was taking the opportunity to bite the bullet and make difficult decisions.
This was reflected in the latest Merdeka Center survey, which found that the prime minister’s approval ratings had dropped to 48%. The observers added the six-point slip from 54% last August would not affect Najib’s position as the head of Malaysia’s biggest party, Umno, which will hold its annual general assembly at the end of next month.
“This is not a worrying factor. This is expected because of the difficult decisions taken by the government and obviously people will react to it,” said Wan Saiful Wan Jan, the chief executive of think tank Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs (Ideas). “Any government in the world who embarks on difficult decisions within three years after their national polls will see their ratings dive and this is expected.”
Merdeka Center cited Malaysians’ dissatisfaction over fuel subsidy cuts as the reason for the prime minister’s popularity dip. As part of its fuel rationalisation plan, Putrajaya slashed subsidies for fuel early October, which saw motorists paying 20 sen more for a litre of RON 95 petrol and diesel. RON 95 now costs RM2.30 a litre, up from RM2.10, while diesel is at RM2.20, an increase from RM2 previously.
Professor James Chin of Monash University Malaysia concurred with Wan Saiful’s assessment and said Najib’s ratings had consistently hovered between 40 and 60% since he became prime minister in 2009. “The numbers are not surprising, it has always revolved around that.” Najib started as prime minister in April 2009 with a dismal 44% rating but it peaked at 72% in May 2010, bolstered by a sense that the nation was headed in the right direction.
But the rising cost of living, pessimism over the state of the country, and flaming racial-religious strife have seen his ratings steadily decline. Khoo Kay Peng said despite the dismal ratings, Najib’s position as president of Malay party Umno was secure as internally there was no push to replace him. “There is no crisis mode in Umno that calls for a change in leadership, unlike Badawi’s time.”
He was referring to Najib’s predecessor Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi who stepped down after pressure from within the party due to the ruling Barisan Nasional’s dismal outing at the 2008 national polls, where they lost the customary two-thirds parliamentary majority. “I don’t think in that sense, the poll result will have much bearing on Najib’s position,” said the independent political observer.
Dr Oh Ei Sun, an analyst from the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore, believed the low ratings would embolden the party’s right wing to make the usual supremacist remarks at its gathering next month. “They will argue the low approval means his moderate stance is not gaining traction and he should revert to a more hard-line stand.”