Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Differing perceptions stoke election fever

How does the Barisan Nasional government measure up with the electorate? An NST voter-trends survey revealed glimpses of what the electorate might factor into their decisions at the next polls,
IF there were a thermometer that could chart the anticipation levels for the next polls, the mercury would be reading near fever level.

A recent New Straits Times voter opinion survey to gauge how things are shaping up between Barisan Nasional and the opposition came up with a snapshot of how hot things will get.

Most striking was that support remains steady for BN, especially among rural Malay voters, but that the economy was the top voter concern.

Amid rising world oil prices and an increasingly competitive economy, one in five of the 1,024 respondents polled early this month cited price increases, rising cost of living, jobs and other economic concerns as their biggest worry.
Political analyst Dr Mohamed Mustafa Ishak says: "Many feel the pinch, but their support for the government remains steady overall. To me, this is about people expecting the government to do more to help them so they can continue to provide support."

The average voter's perceptions on the economy, says Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia economics professor Mansor Jusoh, have become more sophisticated.

"They don't judge just by the price of petrol or goods. Many middle-income earners, for example, have savings, either in the Pilgrims Fund or in tradable unit trusts. Drops in the prices or payouts are things they will also feel strongly about."

The other notable finding is that perceptions on the economy differed among the three ethnic communities polled.

Malays are by far the most optimistic; the Chinese and Indians less so.

The survey says this is partly due to cushioning measures such as the May civil service pay hike and the regional growth corridor announcements, all of which impact the Malay rural heartland the most.

Efforts taken by the government to ease the people's burdens are designed to benefit the needy regardless of race.

Examples include the abolition of school fees and allowing monthly withdrawals from the Employees Provident Fund to service housing mortgages.

Still, Mansor and Mustafa believe the ethnic gap in the findings shows there is room to help all Malaysians mitigate their economic worries, especially over any coming fuel price hike.

The economy is the most immediate issue, but it's just one of many that cause voter sentiments to dip or rise.

The survey found a host of other longstanding topics in the list of respondents' worries that relate to perceptions of whether they are getting fair treatment from the government.

To the voter, these issues are like a row of light switches, says Ibrahim Suffian, director of the Merdeka Center, which conducted the survey.

"If the voter turns enough of these switches on, the signal he will send out is that he feels the government is listening to him, which allows him to continue to give support.

"But if enough of these switches get turned off, then it will be harder for the government to assume that the people are with it."

Take away factors like the popularity of the individual candidate on offer, and it's basically a balancing act when each voter decides where to put his mark on the ballot paper.

Ibrahim says: "If things balance out, then the incumbent gets the vote, but if there are too many negatives, then the voter will decide to send a signal to the government to address the imbalance."

There's been a marked growth recently of the secondary "political issues", each competing for the electorate's attention: mounting opposition allegations of corruption and government mismanagement, issues related to race and religious rights, questions on the judiciary and the Bersih and Hindraf rallies. A sign, perhaps, of how imminent the polls may be.

How then, have things shaped up between BN and opposition?

Basically, the survey found that Malay support overall remains stable in favour of the ruling coalition.

Significant portions of the Chinese and Indian respondents, though, want to see a stronger opposition in parliament.

Political analyst Ong Kian Ming says: "From the opinion surveys and the Sarawak state elections, I anticipate that the Chinese-based BN parties will be the most vulnerable heading into the next elections.

"The Malay support for the BN seems to be holding steady, so I do not expect many Malay majority constituencies to be lost by BN, specifically Umno, because of the stable support for Pak Lah (Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi) and the BN."

The possible outcome in Kelantan, where Pas is one seat ahead of Umno, remains a toss-up.

But one important segment of the Malay electorate to watch out for will be the urban folk. .

"The point the Merdeka survey makes is that many Malays are happy with the economic conditions because of factors such as high commodity prices, but these are not relevant factors for those in urban areas," says Ong, noting that the 1999 general election showed that swings in the Malay vote in urban areas could be very large.

The Bersih gathering, he says, points to the potential mobilisation of urban voters in Selangor and the Federal Territory by the opposition. So how the issue plays out in the coming months will need to be watched.

Overall, though, the picture remains optimistic for BN.

Malay support for the opposition, on the whole, has been on a downward trend in the past 12 months. Overall support levels for the prime minister (71 per cent) and satisfaction with the government's ability to meet people's aspirations (58 per cent) are steady and positive.

They indicate a high likelihood that BN's two-thirds majority will remain intact.

It may well be in the margins -- how constituents such as the urban Chinese will vote, and which of the many issues swirling about will intensify in the coming months and survive to the campaign period -- that the strength of the BN's mandate will be decided.

well on the other hand rallies recently by HINDRAF of indians and BERSIH majority of malays must have been horrifying them..like old man say..no need to think just do it..!!essh i don't understand about them...they want more quick elections mainly because lesser impact on people's thinking ..now have u remember the australia election??WHO DON'T THAT TO HAPPEN?..your thought..??spices up the day


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