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Support for Malaysia's Najib jumps ahead of election
09-Mar-2012, Reuters India

Malaysia's Prime Minister Najib Razak delivers his closing address at the end of the ruling
United Malays National Organisation's (UMNO) annual gathering in Kuala Lumpur December 3,
2011. Credit: Reuters/Bazuki Muhammad/Files

(Reuters) - Malaysians' approval of Prime Minister Najib Razak jumped in recent months, an opinion poll released on Friday showed, putting him on a firm footing ahead of national elections that are expected to be called within months.

Support for Najib rose to 69 percent in February from 59 percent last August, according to the poll conducted by the Merdeka Center, the country's most respected polling firm.

The firm attributed the higher rating to an improving economy, the disbursement of social funds to lower-income households, and security reforms announced by Najib in the wake of street protests in Kuala Lumpur last year.

The government has handed out cash payments of 500 ringgit to households earning 3,000 ringgit or less per month and increased pay and pensions for the 1.4-million strong civil service, a key vote base for the ruling National Front coalition.

"In our view, the rise in public satisfaction may be due to widespread awareness of the prime minister's people-friendly initiatives and proposals to improve Malaysia's democratic credentials," the Merdeka Center said in a statement.

Najib, who has reached out to Malaysia's middle class as a reformer, is trying to gain his first electoral mandate and reverse a shockingly bad performance by the ruling coalition in 2008 that saw the three-party opposition make historic gains.

Najib, who took over as prime minister in 2009, can wait until April next year to call the election but most analysts expect him to call it earlier, before the feel-good factor from the recent handouts fades.

The 58-year-old has toured the country in recent weeks to drum up support for his long-ruling United Malays National Organization and his government is expected to introduce a national minimum wage in the coming weeks -- another potential boost to poorer families.

The Merdeka Center poll found that support for Najib was highest among poorer Malaysians, reaching 78 percent among households earning less than 1,500 ringgit a month. The survey was carried out between February 10 and 23 among 1,022 registered voters.

(Reporting By Stuart Grudgings; Editing by Robeert Birsel)


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