KUALALUMPUR (Reuters) – Malaysians have given Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad a 71 percent approval rating, but concern about ethnic and religious issues has risen since his election in May, an opinion poll showed on Wednesday.
The survey conducted in August by the independent pollster Merdeka Center is the first since Mahathir won a stunning election victory with promises of fighting corruption and reforming institutions.
Mahathir’s return from retirement – he had stepped down in 2003 after 22 years in power – inspired many Malaysians to vote for change and end the decade-long rule of Mahathir’s former protege, Najib Razak.
The Merdeka Center said 71 percent of the 1,160 voters surveyed for the August 7-14 poll said they were satisfied with Mahathir’s performance in his first 100 days in office.
It said 56 percent were satisfied with the overall performance of the ruling Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition in fulfilling its election promises, and 55 percent said they believed the country was headed in the right direction.
Those numbers were down slightly from a survey taken shortly after the new government was formed in May, indicating that post-election euphoria was dissipating, Merdeka said.
“Nonetheless, the present positive numbers underpin the general satisfaction expressed by voters on the performance of the new government on a number of issues since taking power in May 2018,” Merdeka said in a statement.
The state of the economy remained a key issue, with only 48 percent saying they were satisfied with how the new government intended to promote economic growth.
About 55 percent said they were dissatisfied with government measures to address the rising cost of living.
The survey also suggested Malaysians are more worried about ethnic issues and religious rights. Some 21 percent cited those issues as a concern in August, up from 12 percent in April.
Race and religion have always been sensitive issues in multi-ethnic Malaysia, where most members of the ethnic Malay majority are Muslim, while the members of the ethnic Chinese and Indian minorities are mainly Buddhist, Christian or Hindu.
Some groups representing Malays have said their rights are being eroded under the new government, and criticised recent appointments of non-Muslims to key posts.
Thousands of people attended a rally in the capital Kuala Lumpur last month to call for better protection of Malay rights.
About 44 to 45 percent of Malays in the survey said they were dissatisfied with government efforts to protect the position of Islam, the poll said.
“Heading into the future, the PH government will face the challenge of managing heightened public expectations, an opposition that is galvanizing rhetoric on race and religion, and managing coalition politics,” Merdeka said.
(Reporting by Praveen Menon; Editing by Darren Schuettler)