Malaysia PM approval rating surges in new poll

Reuters | KUALA LUMPUR, 09-July-2009 (Reuters) – The approval rating of Malaysia’s new prime minister has surged to 65 percent from from 42 percent in mid-May, according to a poll from the independent Merdeka Center published on Wednesday.

Najib, who was appointed prime minister in April, had initially struggled to establish his popularity but has in his first 100 days in office set out a raft of reforms to open up Malaysia’s economy to boost growth.

The new policies rolled back some of the decades-old economic privileges for ethnic Malays which have been criticised for stunting growth, although there had been a risk of a backlash from among Najib’s ruling party which represents the group.

The poll showed that 62 percent of the 1,062 respondents, questioned between June 19 and July 1, approved of the liberalisation measures and that 60 percent believed it would help Malays in the long term.

“Quite clearly, a growing number of Malaysians like some of the policy initiatives of the PM and his inclusive message,” said Ibrahim Suffian, head of the polling body.

“Some have begun to trust his leadership and some are giving him the benefit of doubt. This has translated into a higher approval rating,” he said.

Najib’s administration faces another major challenge starting on Wednesday with the trial for sodomy of opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim.

The trial is due to start at 9.30 am (0130GMT) and it could stoke tensions between the government and opposition supporters, although a repeat of the clashes seen in 1998 when Anwar was dismissed from government and charged with sodomy and corruption is seen as unlikely.

(Reporting by David Chance; Editing by David Fox)