Malaysian PM marks first 100 days in office with improved ratings – by Malaysia Bureau Chief Melissa Goh

Malaysia’s Prime Minister Najib Razak

Channel NewsAsia | 11-July-2009 – KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia’s Prime Minister Najib Razak marks his first hundred days in office on Saturday, with a significant improvement in approval ratings.

An independent poll by Merdeka Center showed his popularity has shot up to 65 per cent in July, up from 42 per cent just before he was sworn in about three months ago.

When the 55-year-old came into power in April, there was certainly no honeymoon period traditionally accorded to a new prime minister.

Not only was the economy sinking, allegations of corruption and attempts to link him with the murder of a Mongolian model badly tainted his image.

“Please judge me by my actions, my actions will come in due course,” he had said then.

After just 100 days in office, his political fortune is reversing.

He got a big thumbs-up for releasing several high profile Hindu rights activists, as well as approving measures to liberalise the services and financial sectors, and chipping away at affirmative action for ethnic Malays.

Abdullah Ahmad, former editor-in-chief of the New Straits Times Press, said: “Overall, he’s said all the right things. If he can deliver what he said, he will be in a good stead, but will he be able to do it?

“He has to contend with those groups who are unhappy with what he’s doing and PAS (Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party) is one of them. Malays should be confused, we used to get 30 per cent and PAS will exploit it.”

However, his political rivals claim it is all a political gimmick.

Anwar Ibrahim, the opposition parliamentary chief, said: “It’s for his own survival and for the survival of this country’s economy. It’s not whether he wants it or not. Look at the latest figures relating to the recessionary trend and foreign investments, which is disastrous.”

His critics say the state of the country’s judiciary, its police force, and high crime rate leaves much to be desired.

Still, many Malaysians are putting their trust in Mr Najib to realise his goal of “1Malaysia” – a promise of more equal opportunity for all, regardless of race and religion.

K K Ng, a Malaysian retiree, said: “I hope he’ll do something good, but he’s got to make it quick, otherwise come next election, the UMNO (United Malays National Organisation) and BN (Barisan Nasional) government will fall into oblivion.”

Still, how far can Prime Minister Najib go to shore up his support before the next general election, which must be held by 2013?

Analysts say much will depend on the state of the country’s economy, which is expected to shrink as much as five per cent this year.

– CNA/yb