KUALA LUMPUR, March 12 — Pakatan Rakyat (PR) lawmakers have said they are undaunted by the rise in Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s approval ratings, and have argued it does not necessarily mean stronger support for Barisan Nasional (BN) or the ruling Umno.
They attributed the prime minister’s increased popularity, which was particularly significant among those in the lower-income bracket, to his administration’s RM500 cash handouts to the same group under the Bantuan Rakyat 1 Malaysia (BR1M) scheme rolled out recently.
But this, said Petaling Jaya Utara MP Tony Pua, would eventually lose steam once the scheme’s recipients exhaust every single ringgit and if Najib chooses to further delay calling the 13th general election.
“As time passes, the positive impact from the RM500 will wear out, especially if he delays elections further,” he told The Malaysian Insider.
Shah Alam MP Khalid Samad mirrored Pua’s sentiment, saying “Najib has put off the polls for too long”.
“The people who have received (the RM500 aid) will have spent it all, and the people who have not received it are complaining,” he explained.
“By the time Najib calls for election, we will also have clarified that people have been given borrowed money. Right now, the country is surviving on deficit,” he added.
“Considering the PM’s extravagant spending via BR1M and other handouts, the improvement in his personal ratings isn’t surprising,” Lembah Pantai MP Nurul Izzah Anwar observed.
Under BR1M, every household with a total monthly income of below RM3,000 is entitled to a one-off cash handout of RM500, as part of the government’s efforts to ease the burden of rising living costs.
The programme appears to have had a significant impact on voter confidence in Najib among those in the lower-income group.
According to a Merdeka Survey revealed on Friday, the prime minister’s approval rating surged by 10 percentage points to 69 per cent.
The pollster found that Najib’s support was highest among households earning less than RM1,500 a month at 78 per cent with four-fifths of Indians and 74 per cent of Malays polled also giving Najib the thumbs up.
The survey also found those in households earning between RM1,500 and RM3,000 per month, who also receive the BR1M handout, were mostly supportive of the PM and his government.
Approval for the incumbents, however, decreased with earning power, as only 29 per cent of voters earning above RM5,000 said they were happy with Putrajaya.
Additionally, less than half of the 1,022 voters polled last month said “they were happy with the government.”
“The findings also show that as many as one-third of respondents who were inclined towards PR, reported satisfaction with the prime minister – indicating that such expression of approval may not all translate into votes for the ruling coalition,” Merdeka Center said.
Pua noted this finding, adding that PR takes “comfort” in the notion that Najib’s rising popularity may not mean the ruling coalition will perform better in the polls.
Khalid pointed out scandals that have plagued BN will also be a determining factor in the upcoming election and said the opposition will “keep hitting at facts and bearing facts” to show Najib cannot be completely absolved from these scandals.
“Obviously we have a big task to do as he has a lot of things his way, like (mainstream) media. But the media cannot hold out if we keep highlighting the fact that he’s not completely innocent and free from blame in all the scandals which involve Umno leaders,” he said.
For Nurul Izzah, the upward trend for Najib was reminiscent of former prime minister Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi’s days of reign “before his last hurrah”.
“But I remain doubtful as to whether this high rating translates into stronger support for Umno,” she agreed.
“Najib might be popular — but he’s no game changer. As long as he fails to bring in reliable reforms, a majority of the electorate will vote for change.”
The PKR vice-president, however, added that despite this view, the survey results must not be taken lightly.
She said PR would not call it quits so quickly but would continue to push key issues affecting the electorate to the fore and remind voters of Najib’s penchant for back-peddling on important policies.
“Najib has been a flip-flopper of sorts, and he has failed to reign in his Cabinet’s excesses, and the usual politics-business nexus which is the norm under Umno-BN,” she said.
Pua said opposition leaders could counter the surge in Najib’s popularity by explaining to voters that BR1M was merely a one-off “vote-buying exercise”.
An exercise, he added, that will return to haunt voters in the form of higher taxes and prices after elections.