Inflation dents Malaysia PM popularity in poll ahead of election

Malaysia Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob’s approval rating dropped after he called for snap elections, suggesting increasingly unhappy voters want the government to focus on rising cost of living instead.    

His rating fell to 42% in October from 46% in September in a survey by the Merdeka Center for Opinion Research, with almost three-quarters of the 1,209 respondents citing inflation as their main economic concern. 

Ismail, who was in office for 14 months until he dissolved parliament on Oct. 10, is now voters’ second choice to the lead the country. He is behind his predecessor Muhyiddin Yassin of the Perikatan Nasional coalition, according to the survey carried out from Oct. 19-28.

While Malaysia has rebounded swiftly from the pandemic under Ismail, logging a near 9% GDP growth in the April-June period, the nation is struggling with high cost of living and a currency that’s at a multi-decade low versus the US dollar. The political uncertainty arising from this month’s election has heightened the “negative sentiments” for the federal government, with 60% of the respondents reporting dissatisfaction, the survey results showed.

The national vote isn’t due until September 2023, but Ismail’s party, the United Malays National Organisation, wanted it early to capitalize on local election victories as well as what they saw as an opposition in disarray. UMNO clawed back into power after the collapse of Mahathir Mohamad’s government but has led a very fragile coalition since.

Even so, voting inclination toward the Barisan Nasional coalition that UMNO leads fell to 24% from 27% in September, the survey showed. Muhyiddin’s PN alliance saw voter preference rise to 13% in October, a gain of 4% over September, while 31% of the respondents said they had no preference or were still undecided.

While worries about the rising living costs can be seen across Southeast Asia, voters are concerned about Malaysia’s shaky political situation that brought the country three premiers since the last election in 2018. Political instability ranked second among the top five voter issues, according to the survey. – BLOOMBERG