KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 18 — A series of painful measures to trim Malaysia’s chronic budget deficit has hit Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s popularity hard, according to a survey by independent pollster Merdeka Center that showed his approval sliding to a new low of 52 per cent in December.
Conducted this month and supplemented by previously unused data from June to September, the survey took place during a time when Putrajaya rolled out a fuel price hike, confirmed the long-delayed Goods and Services Tax (GST), eliminated price support for sugar, and announced an increase to power tariffs next year — all of which have angered Malaysians already struggling with rising cost of living.
News is also swirling now of extensive toll rate increases next year.
Sixty-seven per cent of respondent cited worsening costs and inflation as their main grouses.
In the survey, Najib also lost popularity across all ethnic communities, but was hardest hit among the Indians, for whom his approval fell from 76 per cent to 57 per cent now.
The PM’s approval also slid further among the Chinese community, coming in at 21 per cent after a loss of 15 percentage points.
More from Malay community also joined in the disapproval, with Najib getting the nod from 66 per cent of the group, down from 73 per cent previously.
Malaysia embarked on a series of subsidy cuts in September, starting with raising the pump price of RON95 petrol and diesel by RM0.20/L starting September 3, to RM2.10 and RM2.00 per litre respectively.
Postponed prior to Election 2013, the so-called subsidy rationalisation programmed was resumed after ratings firm Fitch slashed Malaysia’s sovereign debt outlook from “Stable” to “Negative” in July.
In Budget 2014, Putrajaya finally confirmed the 2015 rollout of the GST and said it would stop subsidising sugar by the current 34 sen per kg, in a move that may cause cascading price hikes.
Starting next year, the electricity tariff in the peninsula will also increase by 14.9 per cent or 4.99 sen to 38.53 sen for every kilowatt per hour (kWh), and 5 sen for Sabah and Labuan.
Yesterday, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak said his administration does not adopt a populist approach but always endeavoured to expand the national economy.
Najib’s approval ratings were at 57 per cent when an earlier poll was conducted just after the May general elections.
The prime minister’s ratings later rose up to 62 per cent, but have tumbled in the latest survey.
A total of 1,005 eligible voters across all states in Peninsula Malaysia were interviewed via telephone for the Merdeka Center survey.