New Straits Times. | KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 17 2004: The cost of living has overtaken crime, domestic politics, education and national security as the issue of greatest concern to most Malaysians today. This is in sharp contrast to less than three months ago, when crime topped the list, with the economy trailing far behind. In August, more than 61 per cent of Malaysians were volubly worried about snatch theft and robbery.
A “moral panic” surfaced, with politicians, police, NGOs and groups of citizens looking for ways to curb the high incidence of crime, especially in urban areas. Since then, rising costs have elbowed aside the criminals: 42 per cent of working Malaysians now say this is their most critical concern.
Even the release of former deputy prime minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim and the heated debates on money politics in recent weeks made scant impression: only 10 per cent of those polled said domestic politics was the most important issue today. Fewer respondents are affected by troubles in southern Thailand and the recent bombings in Indonesia. Although statistically insignificant, three people said the hate-mail received by singer Siti Nurhaliza was of greater concern. The poll was conducted by Merdeka Centre, a social-research organisation, and sponsored by the Friedrich Naumann Foundation. Findings will appear only in this newspaper. More than 600 people took part in the random survey, which has a 4.3 per cent margin of error. Ethnicity, gender and state of residence were all taken into strict account to ensure a fair spread of views.
The poll, conducted last weekend amid news of rising costs of petrol, chicken and other items, indicates that Malaysians in the lower-income groups are especially anxious about household and year-end expenses, especially for school-going children. Those in the higher income brackets are more worried about their housing loans. That nearly one in five respondents is engaged in additional work to supplement the family income suggests that many are struggling to stay above water. Ibrahim Suffian, Merdeka Centre programme director, said the results should persuade policy-makers to concentrate on lower-income groups. More than 75 per cent of people earning between RM750 and RM1,500 a month indicated they earned “just enough”.
This “cukup makan” category is likely to suffer first and most when prices of daily items go up. Forty-seven per cent of respondents manage on double incomes, with 41 per cent saying their spouses worked full-time to help make ends meet. Ibrahim said, however, overall findings indicate that Malaysians are “remarkable people”, coping with rising costs by making the necessary adjustments, and many are able to live within their means. But, he added, they may feel the pinch when the cost of food and other daily necessities goes up.