BN could bear brunt of voter anger over rising costs

By Alexis See Tho and Lisa J Ariffin

KUALA LUMPUR, July 25 — The rising cost of living could hit the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) government hard in the next polls as Malaysians,especially urbanites, face falling living standards as they struggle with stagnant incomes and soaring inflation.

A street poll of 100 city dwellers by The Malaysian Insider conducted in and around Kuala Lumpur had 44 per cent of people surveyed blaming the government for the rising cost of living as compared with 41 per cent attributing it to global factors and only 5 per cent blaming it on business owners.

Putrajaya announced last week that the rate of inflation in Malaysia rose to 3.5 per cent in June from the same month the previous year. The inflation rate in May 2011 was 3.3 per cent, still below the government’s acceptable rate of 5.0 per cent.

The Najib administration has not said when it will call snap polls but Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin yesterday told Umno party members to prepare as elections could be held anytime soon before the government’s mandate expires in 2013.

Of the 86 people surveyed who were registered voters, 40 said that the cost of living was likely to affect how they voted as compared with 31 who said otherwise. Fifteen said it would be a neutral factor.

Retiree Rohani Saad, 57, said she believed voting in an election was the only way she could voice her discontent over the rising costs of living. “If the government says harga tak naik, harga tentu naik (the price will not go up, prices will definitely go up),” said Rohani, who lives on her savings.

Even though Rohani is frugal, spending less than RM100 a week on groceries for herself and her husband, she still feels financially worse off this year. Even the relatively well off are feeling poorer now due to inflation.

An office manager who wanted to be known only as Anne, said the government should monitor prices, especially necessities such as food, to help Malaysians keep their cost of living at bay.

Although the combined income of Anne and her husband is more than RM10,000 a month, she said she had to cut down on buying fish because of its high price.

“We love eating fish, but that’s also where we feel the pinch,” she said.

Despite rosy projections of economic expansion under the Najib administration’s reforms and transformation programmes, it has yet to be felt by the public as prices, especially in urban areas, have raced ahead of income growth. This was reflected in the responses in the street poll.