Merdeka Centre: Economic situation brews discontent

Poll: Economic situation brews discontent
Beh Lih Yi- Malaysiakini
Feb 9, 07 12:57pm
The government has painted a rosy picture of the country’s economy but a survey discovers that the sentiments on the ground are rather thorny.The continued rise in living costs and inflation top the list of concerns among voters, according to the survey by independent opinion research firm Merdeka Centre. It was conducted from October to December last year.

Of the 1,025 respondents, 32 percent said they feel the effects of the country’s economic performance.

As for the ‘top issue of the day’, respondents listed, among others, price hikes, inflation, economic slowdown, unemployment, poverty and development issues.

“Although the economy has always been the top concern for a large number of voters, this however has heightened since the hike in fuel prices in the first quarter of 2006 and has remained high since then,” said Merdeka Centre director Ibrahim Suffian when contacted.

He said the discontent over this issue was already apparent in a poll conducted last April, a month after the price hike was announced, where more than 60 percent of the respondents said the economy affected them the most.

Apart from fuel, there were also price increases for electricity and water supply last year. The government had also announced that effective Jan 1, the toll rates for five highways will be increased.

The price hikes led to a public outcry and numerous demonstrations were held.

Varied effects

The latest Merdeka Centre survey revealed that the economy had varied effects on the different communities.

Sixty percent of the Malay respondents said they were satisfied with the government’s overall management of the economy but 39 percent were dissatisfied.

As for the Chinese, 55 percent gave the thumbs-up while for 41 percent, it was thumbs-down.

The Indians registered the highest dissatisfaction rate over this issue. Sixty-three percent were unhappy while only 34 percent were satisfied.

Overall, the dissatisfaction for the government’s economic management rose from 39 percent last March to 47 percent in October.

According to the Chinese respondents, they have been affected by the ‘directionless economy’, rising inflation and a sense of pessimism among the Chinese business community.

The Indian respondents said they were also affected by the rising inflation and lack of access. They also felt the community lacked credible representation outside the ruling Barisan Nasional.

Despite the odds, half of the respondents were optimistic about making ends meet in future. Nineteen percent expected to see a decline in their personal financial situation while 21 percent said it will be stagnant for them.

Seventy-one percent of the Indian respondents are confident that the government will be able to provide solutions for the problems affecting them.

However, 53 percent of Chinese and 46 percent of Malay respondents believe that the government was incapable of solving the country’s woes.

Corruption

As for the Ninth Malaysia Plan (9MP) unveiled by Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi last March, only 25 percent of Chinese respondents believe they will benefit from the five-year economic blueprint. As for the Indian and Malay respondents, the figures were 67 percent and 38 percent respectively.

The issue of corruption was also a major complaint, with 72 percent of the respondents rating the present situation as ‘unfavourable’. However, the survey noted this will not affect the voting behaviour.

“Low-level corruption affects non-Malays more than the Malays. A plurality of Malays accept patronage as part of ‘development’,” read the survey.

Apart from the economy, respondents, especially those in urban areas, were concerned with crime and public safety as well. Social and moral problems were also major concerns for the Malay and Indian respondents.

The Chinese and Indian respondents also felt that their rights and equality in education were the most relevant issues to them.

The survey also found that ethnic relations remained positive on the surface but the potential for fissures still exist.

Islamisation

About 50 percent Chinese and 41 percent Indian respondents were also worried about the Islamisation of Malaysia where Islamic values and rules of conduct are gradually incorporated into public life.

On the contrary, 63 percent of the Malay respondents wanted to see greater Islamisation take root.

Seventy-nine percent of the Indian respondents and 58 percent of the Chinese respondents also felt that their respective political parties are ineffective in voicing the concern of their communities in respect to Islamisation.

The poll findings raise the question if the government led by Abdullah will be able to repeat its 2004 general election success?

Merdeka Centre’s Ibrahim said despite the dissatisfaction of the respondents over several issues, the general public appears to be contented with the present government.

“Overall public satisfaction has improved. Despite (some) issues, the majority of the public remains appreciative of the status quo,” he added.

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