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Jan 25, 2008

Malaysian PM's Popularity Hits Low Ahead Of Poll


The Malaysian prime minister's approval rating has hit a personal low as the country gears up for early elections, with voters unhappy over rising prices, racial tensions and crime, a pollster said on Friday.

The poll by market research firm Merdeka Center gave Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi an approval rating of 61 percent in December, the lowest since he took office in late 2004 and down by 10 percentage points from November.

A rating of around 60 percent would be considered decent in many Western democracies, but not in Malaysia where the opposition is weak and the mainstream media pro-government.

Badawi's rating has slipped from a high of 91 percent when he took power.

"It's still pretty high but he would want it to be higher," said Ibrahim Suffian, director of programmes at Merdeka.

The centre, which randomly polled 1,026 voters by phone, found that their main concerns were the rising cost of living, followed by race issues and rising street crime.

Race relations are always an issue in multi-ethnic Malaysia, but tensions snapped in November when more than 10,000 ethnic Indians took to the streets to accuse the government of discrimination against their community.

That followed another anti-government protest, by a similar-sized crowd calling for fairer electoral laws, but the Indian protest hit a nerve with the government which ordered some of the organisers arrested under tough security laws.

Badawi suffered his biggest loss of support among the Indian community, the poll found, but Indians only make up around 7 percent of the population. The politically dominant Malays make up around 60 percent and the ethnic Chinese, who dominate business, account for around 25 percent.

Parties belonging to these main ethnic groups make up the ruling coalition, which has effectively governed since independence in 1957 and is again considered certain to win the next election.

The Merdeka poll showed that the coalition could suffer most from a protest vote by the Chinese, to the benefit of a Chinese-backed opposition party, the Democratic Action Party.

"I think, roughly, if you look at the numbers, the DAP will do relatively well," the centre's Ibrahim said.

The next election is not due until 2009, but political experts widely expect polls to be called before end-March.


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