KUALA LUMPUR, June 13 — A recent survey by a local think-tank has revealed that many Malaysians were unsure of the country’s direction, economy and living conditions leading up to the collapse of the Pakatan Harapan (PH) government in February.
The poll by EMIR Research for the first quarter of 2020 was conducted from January 15 to February 24, which was the day of the collapse. It involved 2,002 respondents from the peninsula, Sabah and Sarawak.
“More than half of Malaysians, or 55 per cent, are unsure whether the country’s future direction is on the right track. When added to the 25 per cent of Malaysians who categorically say that the country’s future direction is on the wrong track, it gets more worrisome,” said EMIR’s chief executive officer and president Datuk Rais Hussin in the survey’s summary report.
He said this is especially pronounced when compared to the baseline findings of 50 per cent who were unsure, which indicated a worsening of the worry climate.
EMIR’s National Worry Index (NWI) factors in five aspects, namely mitigating costs of living, enhancing the quality of living, creating credible jobs, ensuring affordable homes, and enabling affordable healthcare.
Rais said the index was developed due to the failure of the PH government to quickly and urgently address these bread-and-butter issues.
“In our Inaugural Poll completed in November last year, these five tenets of a perut (stomach) economy had contributed to the NWI of 0.77, which denotes a marginally maximum worried rakyat.
“In the current poll, the NWI has moved one notch up to 0.78, worsening the worry climate among the rakyat who were already at a maximum worried,” he said.
Overall, Rais said the most pressing issues on the public’s mind is centred on the nation’s well-being, measured by the barometers of whether the country’s future direction is on the right track, whether the economy is on a strong footing, whether the rakyat’s family’s life is better now than previously, and whether living condition will improve in the future.
He explained that EMIR Research initially planned to conduct a press conference on the poll in April, but the ascension of the Perikatan Nasional government under Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yasin on March 1 and the subsequent movement control order (MCO) on March 18 to combat the Covid-19 pandemic led to a change of plans. Both instances occurred while the poll was in its data-entry and analysis stages.
“With the Covid-19 crisis brewing and even before the MCO was instituted, Malaysians were already less confident in the economy when only 19 per cent or 26 per cent in the baseline poll, considers the economy is on a strong footing vis-à-vis 36 per cent or 30 per cent in the baseline poll who finds the economy is not on a strong footing, and a sizeable 45 per cent are unsure of what state the economy is in.
“These figures will definitely worsen with the MCO in place, and whether or not we will see an improvement on the confidence of the rakyat in the economy will depend on how successful the present government mitigates the pandemic, and how effective its exit strategy to restart the economy would be,” Rais said.
The think-tank president said the poll also takes into account ethnic dimensions and the rural-urban divide, adding that by February when the pandemic began to have a noticeable effect in Malaysia, 84 per cent of Malays and other Bumiputeras either felt that the country’s future direction is on the wrong track or were unsure about it.
“The figure for the Indians and Chinese were 72 per cent and 68 per cent, respectively. The same pattern can be discerned when the question of whether the economy is on a strong footing is asked, with 86 per cent of Malays and other Bumiputeras in the negative or unsure about it, while the Indians and Chinese were 67 per cent and 66 per cent respectively.
“Concerning the issue of whether their family’s life is better now compared to two years ago, 71 per cent Malay and other Bumiputeras answered in the negative or were unsure about it, with the Indians and Chinese at 62 per cent and 57 per cent respectively,” he said.
Rais noted that the higher sense of dissatisfaction among the Malays and other Bumiputeras was used by politicians in Malay-based parties, who deemed the timing to be perfect and contrived to bring about the demise of the PH government.
“Urban dwellers appear to be a more pessimistic lot compared to the rural folks with 28 per cent urbanites felt their family’s life is better compared to two years ago, contrasted to rural dwellers at 40 per cent.
“Similarly, 46 per cent of urbanites felt that living conditions will improve while 57 per cent of rural dwellers feel the same way. This pessimism among the urban dwellers, which is a strong base for Pakatan, could spell trouble for the now-Opposition coalition,” he said.
Political disenchantment also appears to have increased slightly. The number of respondents who said they will vote for Pakatan in the 15th general election has dipped to 30 per cent, contrasted with 41 per cent in EMIR’s November poll.
“Meanwhile, Muafakat Nasional comprising Umno and PAS regained a 14 per cent increase in votes to 52 per cent in the current pole as opposed to 38 per cent in the baseline poll.
“Yet there is a one percentage point increase to 18 per cent among Malaysians who will vote for an Independent candidate, as compared to 17 per cent in the baseline poll — signifying that the wish for a Third Force to govern Malaysia is still relevant,” Rais said.