The Malaysian Insider | KUALA LUMPUR, 02-Jan-2013 ― The Barisan Nasional (BN) must do more to cash in on Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s popularity as issues of the day could threaten their hold on Putrajaya, say analysts commenting on the latest Merdeka Center survey.
The analysts also noted the BN government’s approval remains low despite cash handouts and a raft of economic and legal reforms that Najib has introduced since taking power in 2009.
“On the whole, although there are those who say they are satisfied, they may not vote for BN because there are other issues at play during an election ― the political party, the individual candidate, the influence of the local ministers in the area and so on.
“Therefore, the good popularity rating could merely reflect the public’s agreement with Najib and his policies,” said Ibrahim Suffian from Merdeka Center, the independent pollster that conducted the latest survey released yesterday.
The Merdeka Center found that Najib’s ratings, while still relatively high, dipped slightly by two points to 63 per cent in the poll conducted late last month, from 65 per cent in November.
The survey found that while satisfaction among Malay and Indian voters remained strong at 77 per cent and 76 per cent respectively, the sentiment among Chinese voters had dropped to 34 per cent.
The survey also found that voters’ response towards the government remained lukewarm, with only 45 per cent of the respondents saying they were “happy with the government”.
Ibrahim also suggested the possibility of “cultural bias” among the different racial communities that were interviewed for the poll, saying the Malays and Indians were more conservative when it comes to speaking negatively about their nation’s leaders, while the Chinese are generally more outspoken.
“So I am pretty certain that just because the poll says that Najib has 77 per cent support of the Malays, it does not mean he will get 77 per cent of the Malay vote.
“The Indians, the Malay respondents… traditionally they tend not to be so openly negative about the ruling party leaders so there is a cultural bias there,” he said.
Universiti Teknologi Mara’s Prof Madya Shaharudin Badaruddin echoed Ibrahim’s views, saying the prime minister’s good standing among the Malay and Indian communities may not translate to votes in the coming polls.
He agreed that the rating of a person’s popularity is an individualistic matter and would not reflect the total voting trend of the election.
“You may vote for Najib, but it does not mean you want Umno,” he said.
Universiti Malaya (UM) political analyst Prof Datuk Mohamad Abu Bakar said the same, adding that the performance of an individual does not reflect the performance of the party this person represents.
He pointed out that the survey results may not be consistent until polling as issues that may crop up between now and then could affect the prime minister and BN’s popularity.
“So, depending on whether these new issues make him popular or not, one cannot say for sure whether his popularity at this moment in time will be constant through and through until election day,” he said.
Shaharuddin added that the quality of candidates would also play an important role in determining the true support for BN among the country’s various ethnic communities.
He noted that Merdeka Center’s survey methodology of collecting public opinions through phone calls could have also been a major factor in Najib’s high popularity rating.
“When it is face to face, direct contact, the behaviour and replies from a respondent could be different,” he said.
Najib will lead the ruling BN for the first time into the coming 13th general election, which observers believe will be the most hotly-contested polls to date.
In recent months, Najib and his government have gone on overdrive, doling out handout after handout and people-pleasing policies aimed at ensuring a comfortable victory against Pakatan Rakyat (PR), the federal opposition pact that has over the years grown in strength and in numbers.
In Budget 2013, Najib announced a smorgasbord of handouts and benefits in an effort to court electoral support ahead of polls.
These include a second round of RM500 cash handouts to lower income families, dubbed “BR1M 2.0”, as well as an expansion of the programme to include payments of RM250 to single youths earning below RM3,000 monthly.
Earlier this week, Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin suggested that the payments may be made permanent and even doubled to RM1,000 with a BN victory.
Other aid measures include RM500 book vouchers and a new RM250 smartphone rebate for students.
The previous round of BR1M handouts was shown to have boosted support for Najib, especially in the lower income groups that were the main recipients.
But an opposition-backed mega-rally called “Himpunan Kebangkitan Rakyat” today risks throwing a wrench into BN’s works, just as the April 28, 2012 Bersih rally was said to have derailed Najib’s plans for a snap election then.
Najib has the option to call Election 2013 anytime before April 27, after which Parliament will be dissolved and polls automatically put into action.
By Clara Chooi
Assistant News Editor