Jun 3, 2012

Najib Razak's Popularity Slipped

KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) - Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak's popularity has slipped in recent months, an opinion poll showed on Friday, as he lost support among ethnic Chinese and middle-class voters ahead of a general elections that he could call within months.

Najib is facing a dilemma over the timing of the election as his National Front coalition seeks to reverse a dismal showing four years ago that deprived it of its two-thirds majority in parliament for the first time.

The 58-year-old leader has enjoyed high personal approval ratings, but analysts say it is unclear whether that will translate into increased support for his less popular UMNO party and its allies.

Support for Najib slid to 65 percent in the May poll from 69 percent in March, according to the Merdeka Center, the country's most respected polling firm.

The dip may add to speculation that Najib may choose to delay elections until after presenting the budget on September 28.

"The small gain in Malay voter satisfaction towards the PM appears to have been outweighed by the large negative swing among Chinese voters," Merdeka Center said in a statement.

The poll found that approval for Najib was weakest among ethnic Chinese, tumbling 19 percentage points to 37 percent and among those in the middle income bracket, falling 18 percentage points to 50 percent. His popularity among ethnic Malays, who form the majority of Malaysia's population, rose 5 percentage points to 79 percent.

Voters' views on the government remained lukewarm, with approval staying unchanged at 48 percent.

The survey was carried out between May 10 and May 18 among 1,019 registered voters to gauge sentiment after an anti-government protest in April.

Najib's popularity has been lifted by giveaways to lower-income households and reforms to repressive security laws. He announced Malaysia's first national minimum wage at the end of April in another boost for poorer voters.

He has faced a tougher struggle winning over middle class voters, however. At least 25,000 demonstrators rallied in Kuala Lumpur in April to demand reforms to an electoral system they say favors the ruling coalition.

The protest ended in chaos after police fired teargas and water cannon to disperse crowds. Opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim was charged in May for defying a court order related to the protest and could be disqualified from parliament if convicted.

A separate Merdeka Centre poll after the protest showed that 92 percent of Malaysians want shortcomings in the country's electoral rolls to be fixed before the election. That survey also found that only 44 percent of respondents were confident of a free and fair election process.