Low approval for Najib, Pak Lah in new poll as power transfer looms

(The Malaysian Insider) – Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi and his successor Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak have one thing in common: the majority of Malaysians are ambivalent about them.

Abdullah will leave office with only 46 per cent of Malaysians satisfied with his performance as prime minister while Najib will take over as the country’s top leader with some 41 per cent of Malaysians believing that he will do well in the top job.

Perhaps troubling for Najib is that his support among Chinese and Indians is weak, suggesting that he will have to move outside his comfort zone (Umno and his community) when he becomes prime minister next month.

The findings of the survey by Merdeka Centre dovetail with the more polarised political landscape in the country since the general elections in March 2008 where a significant segment of Malaysians have become supporters of the Opposition.

More than 1,000 registered voters were surveyed on a range of issues between December 26 and January 2.

The poll was conducted before Pakatan Rakyat snared the Kuala Terengganu parliamentary seat from Barisan Nasional.

For Abdullah, the latest survey is another reminder of how the mighty have fallen.

His approval ratings were high for the first 12 months after he became prime minister in October 2003.

But his standing began to take a hit when his promises of reforming the judiciary, improving the public delivery system and tackling corruption stayed as that — promises. His approval rating was 71 per cent just before March 8.

It went into free fall after Election 2008 – the result of being fingered as the main reason for Barisan Nasional’s limp performance at the polls.

In March, his approval rating was 54 per cent. By the time, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim won the Permatang Pauh by-election in August, only 40 per cent of Malaysians supported him.

It climbed slightly to 45 per cent in October, the month he announced that he would not defend his position as the Umno party president, cutting short his transition plan. Since then, his approval rating has hovered around 46 per cent.

Abdullah’s support level is higher among Malays (54 per cent) than Chinese (34 per cent) and Indians (42 per cent), a finding which confirms that he is no longer considered the leader of all Malaysians.

Non-Malays ushered in the Abdullah era with great hope that he would tackle racial and religious polarisation. He encouraged this confidence with sparkling rhetoric about equality and justice but did precious little else.

Arguably, race relations are worse now than what it was during the Mahathir years.

His successor, Najib, will not have to deal with high expectations.

Only 41 per cent of Malaysians believe that he would make a good prime minister.

Like Abdullah, his strongest support is among Malays (57 per cent) but much lower among Chinese (18 per cent) and Indians (28 per cent).

The main concern among non-Malays is the perception that Najib could be a closet ultra.

The Opposition has been successful in portraying him as a Malay chauvinist by constantly reminding Malaysians that as the Umno Youth chief in 1987 he once used incendiary and threatening language against non-Malays.

In this regard, Najib’s experience is no different from Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad. When the latter became the prime minister in 1981, the Chinese community had major reservations about him, labelling him as a Malay ultra.

This perception changed over the years, helped no doubt by his more liberal attitude about Malaysian Chinese visiting China and more accommodating stance on Chinese language and culture.

The main difference between then and now: Dr Mahathir and the Barisan Nasional did not have to contend with as challenging a political landscape as Najib.