Najib's approval rating slips to its lowest-ever

KUALA LUMPUR - The approval rating of Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak has slipped six percentage points to 48 per cent, his lowest-ever, respected pollster Merdeka Centre said, citing the unpopular fuel subsidy cuts.

Datuk Seri Najib, who is also Finance Minister, served notice earlier this month in his Budget speech that fuel subsidies - which cost the government RM21 billion (S$8.2 billion) a year and contribute to a persistent Budget deficit - would be cut.

The government had already reduced subsidies on Oct 2, causing pump prices to rise 20 sen per litre for RON95 petrol and diesel, which now cost RM2.30 and RM2.20 per litre, respectively.

The latest survey of support for Mr Najib's administration conducted by the Merdeka Centre earlier this month showed that the approval rating for the Prime Minister slid to 48 per cent from 54 per cent in August, when the 61-year-old won plaudits for his handling of the Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 disaster.

"In our view, the reduction in the approval rating figures was likely tied to the fuel subsidy reduction measure on Oct 2," the pollster said in a statement yesterday, The Malaysian Insider reported. Merdeka Centre polled 1,005 registered voters by phone between Oct 11 and 26.

The results also showed a three percentage point fall in the approval rating for the government, the report said, with 38 per cent of respondents saying they were happy with the government compared with 41 per cent recorded in August.

"Again, we attribute this to public dissatisfaction as likely arising from concerns over the likely increase to the cost of living due to fuel price increases, as well as depressed commodity prices in rural areas of the country," said Merdeka Centre.

It also found that nearly half of the respondents felt the country was "headed in the wrong direction" as opposed to 41 per cent who felt Malaysia was on the right track.

The negative sentiments were largely driven by concerns such as the rising cost of living, the general condition of the economy, and racial and religious tensions, the statement said, according to The Malaysian Insider.

Meanwhile, Mr Najib said the new fuel subsidy scheme for RON95 petrol will come into effect in the middle of next year, while that for diesel will be slightly earlier, The Star reported.

The report cited the Prime Minister as saying that the government was still looking at various proposals for the scheme, and it was "a bit premature" to disclose details.

His comments came days after Second Finance Minister Ahmad Husni Hanadzlah announced on Monday preliminary details for a new three-tiered fuel subsidy scheme.

Datuk Seri Husni said those earning below RM5,000 a month would receive a full subsidy, those earning between RM5,001 and RM10,000 would get a "partial subsidy", while those earning above RM10,000 a month would not be entitled to a subsidy.

This article was first published on Oct 31, 2014.
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