April 26, 2019 / 10:11 AM / 5 months ago

Support for Malaysian PM drops as concerns grow over economy, race - survey

KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) - Fewer than half of Malaysians approve of Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, an opinion poll showed on Friday, as concerns over rising costs and racial matters plague his administration nearly a year after taking office.

FILE PHOTO: Malaysia's Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad speaks during a joint news conference with Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong (not pictured) in Putrajaya, Malaysia April 9, 2019. REUTERS/Lai Seng Sin/File Photo

The survey, conducted in March by independent pollster Merdeka Center, showed that only 46 percent of voters surveyed were satisfied with Mahathir, a sharp drop from the 71 percent approval rating he received in August 2018.

Mahathir’s Pakatan Harapan coalition won a stunning election victory in May 2018, ending the previous government’s more than 60-year rule.

But his administration has since been criticised for failing to deliver on promised reforms and protecting the rights of majority ethnic Malay Muslims.

Of 1,204 survey respondents, 46 percent felt that the “country was headed in the wrong direction”, up from 24 percent in August 2018, the Merdeka Center said in a statement. Just 39 percent said they approved of the ruling government.

High living costs remained the top most concern among Malaysians, with just 40 percent satisfied with the government’s management of the economy, the survey showed.

It also showed mixed responses to Pakatan Harapan’s proposed reforms.

Some 69 percent opposed plans to abolish the death penalty, while respondents were sharply divided over proposals to lower the minimum voting age to 18, or to implement a sugar tax.

“In our opinion, the results appear to indicate a public that favours the status quo, and thus requires a robust and coordinated advocacy efforts in order to garner their acceptance of new measures,” Merdeka Center said.

The survey also found 23 percent of Malaysians were concerned over ethnic and religious matters.

Some groups representing Malays have expressed fear that affirmative-action policies favouring them in business, education and housing could be taken away and criticised the appointments of non-Muslims to key government posts.

Last November, the government reversed its pledge to ratify a UN convention against racial discrimination, after a backlash from Malay groups.

Earlier this month, Pakatan Harapan suffered its third successive loss in local elections since taking power, which has been seen as a further sign of waning public support.

Despite the decline, most Malaysians - 67 percent - agreed that Mahathir’s government should be given more time to fulfil its election promises, Merdeka Center said.

This included a majority of Malay voters who were largely more critical of the new administration, it added.

(The story corrects the figure in paragraph 5 to show that 39 percent, not 36 percent, of respondents approved of the ruling government.)

Reporting by Rozanna Latiff; Editing by Nick Macfie

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