Najib and BN: Why the difference in popularity? — Galvin Wong
everyone from political commentators to kopitiam uncles have an opinion about when it will be. May was THE month, then June and now probably September.The onus is on PM Najib to decide and in this article we take a look at a crucial factor that has much say on when he decides to call the elections.
In Malaysia the PM can choose when he wants to call the country's general elections. Logically, Najib will want to make sure that he is in the best possible position before he calls them. And one good way to gauge that would be to take a look at his popularity ratings. In the most recent survey done by Merdeka Centre, his ratings stood at 65%. If one takes these ratings at face value, he seems to be in an extremely good position right now.
But taking a closer look, in the same survey, it was revealed that his party's ratings only stand at 49%. This a crucial reason why he has chosen to delay elections. Why is there such a large gap? Why is it that the rakyat seem to favour Najib but not his party? This article will try to give a brief overview of the answers to these questions.
Although his ratings stood at 69% in February , 65% is still undoubtedly an extremely high figure. Abdullah Badawi popularity just before he called the 12th GE in March 8 stood at 61% and although there are no statistics during Dr Mahathir's time, we can safely conclude that his ratings would have been much lower due to his handling of the Anwar Ibrahim issue and the Reformasi movement at that time. Let me give a reason for Najib's high ratings.
The one major reason is because of the media attention placed on him. Media limelight on him has burgeoned in the past few months so much so that one hardly hears of any other BN politician these days. This is a delibrate strategy to make the current BN campaign an extremely PM-centric one. This means that BN has hinged their bets on Najib being the main thrust and carrying BN through this GE.
He is the face of everything good the government puts out. He has personally launched popular programmes such as Bantuan Rakyat 1Malaysia, Kedai Rakyat 1Malaysia, is the motivation behind the 1Malaysia campaign and is the initiator of the ETP and the GTP. When people read and think about these programmes, they associate them with him.
It is arguable that this strategy was more of a reactive one rather than a proactive one. Media attention being placed on the PM is no surprise but to such an extent? Barisan Nasional's top leaders with the exception of Khairy Jamaluddin are not eloquent speakers. Most times, what they say will come back to haunt them and damage the party's reputation. Datuk Seri Muhyiddin's blunders are a good example of why the media especially those controlled by BN do not report him much. The education rankings blunder here is a good example of why Najib is focused upon much more.
Other reasons could be because he has taken the effort to relate to the common rakyat by going on TV and radio to talk about himself and his views. And the fact that there have not been any scandals associated to him personally to damage his clean figure and reputation. That may change especially in the light of the recent Scorpene and George Kent controversy.
Now, Najib's popularity would indeed have given rise to BN's popularity. After all, a leader's achievements is associated with his party. The problem however, lies not with Najib lifting his party, but with his party members performing the complete opposite. A party leader's negative publicity will definitely lead to a downfall in his party's popularity. But a party member's negative publicity will definitely damage the party but not always its leader.
For example, Abdullah Badawi during his tenure was decently popular among the people. However, the people turned against BN in 2008 because of negative perception caused by his party members such as Khir Toyo that were involved in scandals.
In the same way, the BN is suffering because of individual member's mistakes that have damaged BN's but not Najib's ratings. The NFC scandal is a good example. It tainted BN's already dirty image but it has not been associated with Najib. Recent remarks by the Sri Gading MP on Ambiga Sreenevasan has also drawn anger and ridicule from the rakyat. Again, BN has suffered from this incident.
Even as we head into the last 2 quarters before elections, Najib's strategy should and will not only focus on his own personal ratings but he has to try to lift his party ratings on par with his. Minimising blunders by key ministers is a priority. Cutting down scandals is a must as well, although that is certainly unlikely at this juncture. In the long term, more capable leaders that are not only good speakers but good thinkers as well need to be brought in.
* Galvin Wong reads The Malaysian Insider.
* This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malaysian Insider.