High approval for Malaysia’s PM Anwar, but his government lags behind: Survey

Malaysian PM Anwar Ibrahim was seen favourably by two-thirds of the respondents polled, said pollster Merdeka Center. PHOTO: AFP

straitstimes.com | 11-Feb-2023 : KUALA LUMPUR – Malaysia’s Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim scored a 68 per cent approval rating in the first poll conducted since he took office in late November, but his government was endorsed by only around half of the respondents.

Pollster Merdeka Center said on Friday that Datuk Seri Anwar was seen favourably by two-thirds of Malaysians polled, with over 80 per cent accepting his appointment as Prime Minister following a general election that resulted in a hung Parliament.

But his government – consisting of his Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition, former rival Barisan Nasional and several other smaller outfits – only had a 54 per cent approval rating, the pollster said.

The survey, carried out between December 2022 and January, showed that Malaysians are keen to put the country’s political instability behind them and to let the current administration “prove themselves”, Merdeka Center said in a statement.

The approval ratings for Mr Anwar and his government lag behind those of the previous PH administration, which saw high ratings when it came into power for the first time in 2018.

Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad had an approval rating of 71 per cent close to 100 days after taking office in May 2018, while his government received a 67 per cent rating.

Analysts have said the poll results show that Mr Anwar’s government is not enjoying a “honeymoon period”, which new governments typically get after elections.

“There was never a honeymoon period for this government as it was precarious from day one,” said Dr Oh Ei Sun, a senior fellow at the Singapore Institute for International Affairs.

Dr Oh, however, said that there is very little Mr Anwar and his government can do to improve their ratings, except to become more Malay- and Muslim-centric to battle the opposition Perikatan Nasional’s wave of support among the Malays in the last general election.

“This is nigh impossible and also contrary to its reformist ideology,” he said, referring to the progressive and reformist ideals of Mr Anwar and PH.

Both Mr Anwar and his government had lower support among Malays compared with non-Malays. Despite receiving a rating beyond 70 per cent from other races, Mr Anwar had a 60 per cent score among Malays, while his government only had 48 per cent.

Mr Anwar’s approval rating is comparable to those of his predecessors, Tun Dr Mahathir and Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, but is far higher than that of his immediate predecessor, Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob.

Dr Mahathir saw a rating of between 70 per cent and 80 per cent in the early months of his administration before his popularity started to dwindle, ultimately leading to PH administration collapsing in 2020 due to defections.

Mr Muhyiddin enjoyed a rating of above 70 per cent in the months after taking office in March 2020, largely due to his initial management of the Covid-19 pandemic, while his government had a 63 per cent score, higher than that of Mr Anwar’s government.

Datuk Seri Ismail’s highest rating was only 52 per cent, registered in the month after he took office in August 2021. His government only had a 45 per cent approval rating as its best performance, registered when he became prime minister.

Mr Anwar took office on Nov 24, five days after a closely fought general election that produced no clear winner.

He leads what is on paper the strongest Malaysian government in over a decade, having control of 148 out of 222 seats in Parliament, but his government is made up of multiple ex-rivals offering conditional support.

Malaysia has had four prime ministers in as many years, two of them coming into power via defections and political horse-trading rather than through elections. None of the three premiers before Mr Anwar managed to complete two years in office.