Written by Wong Choon Mei, Politics Now!
KUALA LUMPUR (Politics Now!) – As expected, Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim’s approval has plunged to just 50% from 68% nearly a year ago, as he stubbornly focused on building his own image especially on the international while the domestic economy languished and the ringgit fell to its lowest in history.
“This is what happens when you start to believe in your own PR (public relations). You start to think you are the greatest thing on planet Earth and then when reality hits, it’s too late. It’s always too late once you let power get to your head,” a former head of money at a large foreign bank told Politics Now!
“For years, Anwar and Pakatan have been warning Malaysia is on the way to failed state status and how perilous is the trillion-ringgit national debt racked up by (ex-prime minister) Najib Razak and Umno. Now that they are in power, Anwar is suddenly the ‘voice of Gaza’. How crack-brained is that? Not to mention, totally deceitful and insincere in the eyes of voters, who want a stop to the socio-economic slide to be prioritized.”
SELF-GLORY INSTEAD OF PRIORITIZING NATIONAL INTERESTS
Indeed, it is tough to see how Anwar can stitch back the credibility destroyed by his own ego. Even the well-respected former deputy governor of Bank Negara Sukudhew Singh is disappointed.
“Now, we have leaders who are more interested in pulling self-glorifying international relations stunts, rather than address core issues hurting economic progress,” said Sukudhew on LinkedIn.
“For a country with a government debt burden of RM1.5 trillion, and one still growing fast, even as economic growth remains moderate (slow), it not only needs to optimize how it spends taxpayer funds, it must also focus on stronger ties with economically strategic countries.”
LITTLE BENEFIT, HIGH ECONOMIC RISK – MALAYSIA MAY NEED GLOBAL FINANCIAL AID SOON
Perhaps the unkindest cut of all for Malaysians, whose time and hopes team Anwar have wasted, even the efforts to show off on the international stage have flopped – and may even bring greater risk to the country’s economy as Anwar stepped on toes larger than his and barged in on issue he has little understanding and grasp of.
“Rather than seeking to reconcile and understand, have instead reacted emotionally,” said Sukudhew, referring to the Hamas-Israeli war, which Anwar has zoomed in on with an eye to catching the favor of the domestic Malay-Muslim electorate, the country’s largest and amongst whom he has very little popularity with.
“I have noticed that our national leaders have been spending a lot of their time on foreign relations ventures that will provide little economic benefit to the country,” wrote Sukudhew.
“They risk alienating those very countries on which Malaysia’s future economic progress is highly dependent.”
Sukudhew dropped another bombshell. The deputy governor of the central bank for four years and nine months from April 2013 to December 2017 warned that Malaysia may in the not too distant future require global financial assistance, adding that oil revenues will not save a country living beyond its means for so long.
HISHAM OR SAMSURI? EVEN NAJIB BETTER THAN ANWAR?
Already in the coffee shops around the country, the talk is on who will replace Anwar – not if. And as PM, not just FM! The conversation is no longer hushed and few supporters bother to make the ‘give him more time’ defense that was a standard in the past.
Perhaps it’s the controversial way that he gave himself the Finance Minister’s post, despite previously preaching conflict of interest issues, that has worn public patience thin. Anwar’s refusal to give up the post or even appoint a Second Finance Minister has also annoyed the country.
It is telling that a day ago a former MP from ally DAP pointedly named 15 individuals, whom he believed could do the job as Second Finance Minister. The comment from Ong Kian Ming, the former deputy international trade minister, was seen by many as a nudge from DAP to Anwar to buck up.
“Najib was actually a very effective Finance Minister. Yes, unfortunately he helped himself to the loot and we had 1MDB and all-round corruption. But under Najib, businesses and investments thrived more than under any other administration including Mahathir’s 22 years as PM,” a political analyst told Politics Now!
“Najib liked being FM, he spent a lot of time as FM and would send Zahid (Hamidi, his DPM) to the kampungs (villages) to talk to voters and grassroots. Whereas for Anwar, he does neither. Always going overseas and with a big entourage. A lot of fancy speeches and shoot from the hip political responses, that’s about it.”
The preferred choice to replace Anwar as PM appears to be split amongst the non-Malays and the Malays.
Two names that have consistently cropped up are Umno’s Hishammuddin Hussein and Pas’ Samsuri Mokhtar. Among non-Malays, Hisham is seen as the more multiracial, ‘PM for all’ candidate – whilst Samsuri has the vote of the Malays, although they also like Hisham, who has a long and established ‘pedigree’ in Umno, once the premier Malay-based political party in the country.
WARNING BELLS – 60% BELIEVE MALAYSIA GOING THE WRONG WAY
On Wednesday, independent pollster Merdeka Center had released its latest findings. Not only did Anwar’s own popularity plunge, just 41% approved of his ‘Madani’ government’s performance, compared to 54% previously.
Alarmingly, 60% of respondents believed Malaysia is going in the wrong direction, compared to 31% who think it is going the right way.
“The movements in voter sentiments are largely driven by their concerns over the economy and how it affects their livelihoods. The major reasons for the wrong direction are economic issues (56 per cent), political instability (13 per cent) and poor administration (9 per cent),” the survey said.
LOW EXPECTATIONS ANWAR CAN DO THE JOB
Anwar’s poor performance in the survey also shows the low expectations Malaysians have of his ability to put the country back together again.
“In our opinion, the survey reflects the expectations held by the electorate on the administration to regenerate economic growth as well as address longstanding anxiety over inflation and tepid wage growth.“
“Other issues that will shape public opinion into the future will include the form and substance of potential subsidies withdrawal, new taxation as well as revamp in the cash transfers programme,” the pollster added, referring to the announcements unveiled by Anwar in the much-criticized Budget 2024.
Written by Wong Choon Mei, Politics Now!