Najib gaining public approval

By Wong Chun Wai (The Star)

More and more Malaysians are giving the thumbs-up to the Prime Minister and his moves.

IT’S a ringing endorsement for Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak ahead of his 100 days in office as Prime Minister.

A survey conducted by the Merdeka Centre revealed that Najib’s latest approval rating had gone up to 65%, from 46% in mid-May and 42% when he took over the country’s top post from Tun Abdullah Badawi on April 1.

The respondents were asked to give their input on the Prime Minister’s leadership, performance and their opinions on Najib’s implementation of the government’s policies.

The rating is expected because Najib has worked hard from day one. He is aware that he has come in at a difficult time – when the Barisan Nasional is still recovering from the massive losses of the March 8 polls and the global financial crisis.

With these political and economic burdens staring at him, Najib worked against time, well aware of the huge expectations on him.

The 100-day mark is used by the media as a benchmark and is arguably unfair as the period is too short.

But given the brief period, Najib has certainly done well as the approval ratings have proven.

Without doubt, the biggest score must be Najib’s move on economic liberalisations. His decision to scrap the 30% bumiputra equity requirement for companies seeking public listing showed his courage in making sound economic decisions even if they affect Umno politically.

Najib is surely aware that there would be criticism from the Malay voters who are used to affirmative action, but he must have weighed how the equity rule has affected the country’s economic competitiveness, particularly foreign direct investments.

With an economic slowdown, with jobs being lost and neighbours competing for investments, Najib decided to carry out what is right and responsible and not merely be popular among his Umno members.

Politics is no longer local, particularly on economic issues. His decision was reported in all newspapers in major financial capitals. In short, the nations that matter.

His 1Malaysia concept may have yet to fire the imagination of Malaysians but public acceptance has definitely taken root. No one with a sound mind can dispute the intention of this concept.

Through the Cabinet, he has also rightly decided that no child should be converted when one of the child’s parents has changed religion.

He has set things in motion and now, the various rulers and state religious councils are deliberating on the move.

Najib is aware of the need to win over the Chinese and Indian votes, which went to the Opposition on March 8.

The survey showed that 76% of Malays were satisfied with Najib’s performance while the level of support among Chinese and Indians was 48% and 74% respectively.

His walkabout to touch base with the people has also earned him brownie points. We just hope it would not be a photo opportunity for the 100 days but something he would continue.

So far, the media has found that these outings have been genuine surprise visits with only the national news agency Bernama invited to cover. Occasionally, editors found out about these visits on Najib’s Twitter.

On civil liberties, he has released detainees from the Internal Security Act with the Home Ministry now carrying out a review of the detention law.

He has expressed his readiness to face a critical press and editors have been invited to regular breakfast meetings with him, where they expressed their views on current developments.

The idea is to enable the Prime Minister to hear the news, however unpleasant it may be, and at the same time, let the editors know the rationale for the implementation of certain policies and decisions.

It is still very early days into Najib’s term but he has done remarkably well, given the economic challenges and political burdens he is carrying.

The state of the economy has remained the overriding concern of most Malaysians interviewed and the survey showed that they were fairly optimistic and confident of his ability to steer the country down the right path.

It’s a fair assessment and it shows that Malaysians, being better informed and more critical now, would be less generous of their compliments of politicians. The days of blind adulation are over.

But the bottom line is Malaysians have approved his leadership.