Malaysia

Najib’s popularity plunged because rhetoric did not match reality, say analysts

BY SHERIDAN MAHAVERA
December 19, 2013

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak's popularity has been hit by the rising cost of living faced by ordinary Malaysians. – The Malaysian Insider file pic, December 19, 2013.Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak's popularity has been hit by the rising cost of living faced by ordinary Malaysians. – The Malaysian Insider file pic, December 19, 2013.The gap between rhetoric from Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s administration and the reality of Malaysian lives is behind the 10% slide in the prime minister’s popularity in the latest Merdeka Center survey, say analysts.

They told The Malaysian Insider that there was also a gap between what the Najib administration demanded from the Malaysian public and how it behaved with public funds.

“The Government is unable to show that it is sharing the financial burden by eliminating waste.

"Instead the public sees that the burden to be more prudent is on them,” political analyst Khoo Kay Peng said when commenting on the latest survey results.

Pollster Merdeka Center said yesterday that its latest survey showed that Najib’s approval rating took a 10% dive from 62% in August 2013 to 52% in December.

The survey was conducted between December 4 and 12, 2013, after the reduction of fuel subsidies in September 2013, and the tabling of the Budget 2014 during which the Government announced the introduction of the goods and services tax (GST) in 2015.

Merdeka Center said that concerns over the economy, particularly the rising cost of living and inflation, topped the list with 67% of respondents.

Additionally, 54% of respondents reported that they did not believe in statements from government leaders about the economic situation, revealing the gap between the rosy picture that the administration paints of the economy and the pain in the pocket for consumers.

Khoo said raising the per capita income of Malaysians remains a steep challenge for Najib even as the public chafes at electricity tariff hikes and rising petrol prices.

“A big part of the problem is the labour policy and what industries practise. The Government puts a lot of emphasis on increasing productivity and skilled labour but, at the same time, there is an addiction to cheap foreign labour.”

Khoo added that while the administration expects the public to tighten their belts, nothing was done about government waste as seen in numerous auditor general’s reports.

Corruption remained a persistent problem, said Tan Sri Ramon Navaratnam. Graft leads to a rise in the cost of doing business which in turns leads to inflation, the retired top civil servant said.

When businesses have to pay bribes, the extra cost would be passed down to the consumer, said Navaratnam, who is chairman of the Centre for Public Policy Studies.

But rising inflation was not the only issue, he said, as the administration did not appear to deal firmly with problems, such as the education system and presence of extremists.

“Look at the Pisa (Programme for International Assessment) scores. That is a clear indication of how little confidence the public has towards our national leadership.”

Two weeks ago, the Pisa scores showed that Malaysian 15-year-olds ranked in the bottom third among 65 countries when it came to reading, Science and Mathematics.

Malaysian 15-year-olds were now three to five years behind their peers in Shanghai, Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan, South Korea, Macau and Japan.

The Government was criticised by politicians and educators over the Pisa results even as more and more Malaysian students scored straight As in the Sijil Penilaian Menengah (SPM).

“But this is not a problem that developed overnight. It was accumulated over the years, starting from Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamed’s time.”

Navaratnam said the BN leadership's silence and sometimes tolerance of racist and religious extremists undermined the idea that cared about the public's peace of mind.

This is since Najib is fond of talking of moderation and unity through the 1Malaysia concept, yet he tolerates anti-Shia and anti-Christian sentiments.

"What the country wants and what Najib has to do is provide firm, fair resolute and compassionate leadership," said Navaratnam about the prime minister's effort to regain public confidence. – December 19, 2013.