KUALA LUMPUR, July 8 — Yes, his approval rating is up. Yes, the majority of Malaysians have confidence in his handling of the economy. Yes, nearly 50 per cent of Malaysians believe that he makes a better prime minister than Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi.
But before Datuk Seri Najib Razak and his comrades in Umno/Barisan Nasional start believing that the ruling coalition is back in the groove, and that Malaysians are once again firm believers in BN, they should pause and study some of the nuggets of information thrown up by the survey on 100 days of the Najib administration.
Malaysians are at best ambivalent whether the country’s sixth PM will be able to bring about reforms needed by the country. They also have not seen much evidence that institutions like the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission and the judiciary will bloom under his leadership.
The poll of 1,060 registered voters in Peninsular Malaysia by Merdeka Center was carried out between June 19 and July 1. It shows that 65 per cent of those polled are satisfied with Najib’s performance since he became prime minister on April 3.
When the polling institute conducted a survey in mid-May, Najib only obtained an approval rating of 46 per cent. A significant segment of the respondents then were undecided, unwilling to give their stamp of approval until some of the flowery rhetoric which all new Malaysian leaders spout was matched with deeds and disturbed by the baggage which accompanied him into office.
In the recent survey, the percentage of undecided has dropped to 13 per cent. What this means is that some fence-sitters have decided to support Najib, persuaded perhaps by his firmer leadership and efforts to dismantle some affirmative action economic programmes.
And turned off by the seemingly endless disagreements and bickering among Pakatan Rakyat partners.
But the support for the Najib administration is not without qualifiers.
Only 43 per cent of Malaysians polled are confident that he will able to bring about reforms in the country, 26 per cent are not confident and 30 per cent are undecided. Broken down according to race, the most sceptical are the Chinese with 32 per cent saying that they are confident of his ability to bring reforms against 49 per cent Malays and 47 per cent Indians.
Drilled down, only 46 per cent of respondents are pleased with the police force under the Najib administration, with 45 per cent not confident and 9 per cent undecided.
The findings are even more dismal with regard to the MACC, judiciary and execution of government projects.
Only 41 per cent of respondents have confidence in the MACC, with 46 per cent having no confidence and 13 per cent undecided. Some 39 per cent have confidence in the judiciary under Najib, with 43 per cent not confident and 19 per cent undecided. These findings are hardly surprising given the low estimation in which both institutions are held by the public.
The general view is that the MACC is a tool of the administration and shows more enthusiasm going after opposition politicians while independence is not a word most Malaysians reach for to describe the judiciary. Respected jurists and legal experts have assailed the judiciary in recent months for not upholding the doctrine of separation of powers in the Perak crisis.
Still, in all likelihood Umno/BN supporters will choose to ignore the public sentiment on Najib’s ability to bring about reform and focus instead on the headline findings. It is hard to blame them for doing that. Across the planet, politicians do that — focus on the positives.
The danger in taking that approach is that sometimes you miss the nuances which suggest that all is not right, which suggest the support is conditional.