Najib Approval Rating Drops as Malaysian Costs Increase

Bloomberg Business Week | 30-Oct–2014 – Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak’s approval rating slipped as rising living costs prompted more voters to say the country is headed in the wrong direction.

The prime minister’s approval level dropped to 48 percent from 54 percent in August, according to a survey of 1,005 Malaysians conducted by the Merdeka Center for Opinion Research from Oct. 11 to Oct. 26. Economic concerns ranging from higher prices of fuel and homes to next year’s implementation of a consumption tax worry citizens the most, according to 71 percent of respondents, compared with 54 percent in August.

Najib’s efforts to narrow a budget deficit through subsidy cuts have left companies and consumers grappling with higher costs, and inflation next year is forecast to be the fastest since 2008. The proportion of people saying Malaysia is on the “wrong track” rose to 49 percent from 44 percent in August, while 41 percent said it is headed in the right direction.

“The negative sentiments were largely driven by concerns over cost-of-living increases, the general condition of the economy as well as worries over stoking of racial sentiments and public service delivery,” the Merdeka Center said in a statement yesterday.

The government raised fuel prices for the first time in more than a year on Oct. 2, following cuts in subsidies from sugar to electricity. Voter unhappiness is increasing even after Najib announced bigger cash handouts for the poor to help them cope with higher costs.

Concerns about the economy deepened even after it expanded at the fastest pace in six quarters in the three months through June. The government forecasts growth of as much as 6 percent this year and next.

Najib unveiled his 2015 annual budget on Oct. 10 where he announced wider exemptions of goods and services under a 6 percent tax that will start in April. The finance ministry forecasts inflation of 4 percent to 5 percent next year.

Public satisfaction with the government fell to 38 percent in the poll compared with 41 percent in August. Only 38 percent said they had confidence in the judicial system, compared with 48 percent who said they didn’t.

“These sentiments were more prevalent among younger voters where a majority of those under 40 years old reported lack of confidence in the judiciary,” the center said.

Najib’s rating fell to 42 percent in January in the months after the announcement of the goods and services tax and subsidy cuts. His approval level was at 45 percent when he came to power in 2009 and rose to as high as 72 percent by mid-2010.

To contact the reporter on this story: Shamim Adam in Kuala Lumpur at sadam2@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Stephanie Phang at sphang@bloomberg.net Amit Prakash, Dick Schumacher