Cover Story: Survey - How to fix Malaysia

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This article first appeared in The Edge Malaysia Weekly, on December 19-25, 2016.


A country is like an old house. Over time, there are bound to be things that need to be fixed or upgraded. And in the house of Malaysia, there are things that need to be improved upon.

So, The Edge ran a large online survey to get a sense of what Malaysians feel are the most pressing problems as well as the solutions they want.

First, here are the parameters and limitations of the online survey, which was hosted on a SurveyMonkey platform. SurveyMonkey is a widely-used cloud-based survey software firm based in the US with some 25 million users.

The survey was conducted in three languages — English, Bahasa Malaysia and Chinese. It was disseminated online (via social media, messaging apps and as well as The Edge and The Edge Financial Daily.

The survey comprised three questions on demographics and nine questions on issues and solutions. All responses were confidential and we did not capture any personal data — be it name, email address or IP address.

The survey ran from Nov 15 to Dec 6. During the three-week period, the Bersih 5 rally and the Umno general assembly were held and there was news flow on the victory of US President-elect Donald Trump, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s visit to China and the weakening ringgit. These may or may not have directly impacted sentiment.

We collected responses from 21,439 people, which exceeded our expectations. There was a big spike in responses in early December. We did not allow people to take the same survey twice from the same device. We also combed through the dataset to check for duplicates.

A limitation of this survey is the skew towards urban areas. While there were respondents from all states, 69.3% of them said they were in Kuala Lumpur or Selangor. This broadly reflects our reader base.  

Another limitation is the under-representation of Malays, who make up 50.7% of the population. About 20.4% of the respondents identified themselves as being Malay. Over half, or 55.1% of the respondents, identified themselves as being of Chinese descent. The Chinese make up about 25% of the broader population.

About 53.7% of the respondents said they were aged 46 and above. The sample also comprised of those age between 18 and 35  (24.81%) and 36 to 45 (20.96%).

With these limitations in mind, we sliced the data by major ethnic and age groups to see whether there were key differences in opinions. We hoped that this would give us a more nuanced look at how people from different backgrounds think about national issues.


The key takeaways

On the whole, corruption and poor governance are the two most urgent problems that Malaysia needs to fix. These two issues topped the list for all the ethnic groups as well as the age groups we looked at, namely the 18-to-24 and the 46-to-60.

These findings also emerged when we looked at the data by location to see if there was any differences in opinion between urban and rural folks.  Almost one in two Chinese and two in five Malays said corruption is the main problem that should be addressed immediately.

Surprisingly, the high cost of living was ranked as the least important of the issues offered. Less than 10% of respondents in each ethnic group ranked it as a top-priority issue.

Several solutions emerged. About 80% of respondents across the board want the government to spend prudently and minimise wastage and leakages. The same number of respondents want a stronger ringgit and purchasing power as a way to ease cost-of-living burdens. Bantuan Rakyat 1Malaysia (BR1M) handouts are wholly unpopular, with only about 3.4% of respondents choosing it as a solution.

On political contestation, almost three in four respondents want institutions such as the Election Commission to play a more independent role and almost three in four respondents want politicians to disclose their assets and expenditures.

On leaving the country, one in three respondents said they wanted to live in Malaysia forever while 38.6% said they were making plans to leave. The rest of the respondents saw no viable exit route.

About 61.6% of the young respondents said they were making plans to leave the country, while about 30% of their counterparts in the older age group said they were doing so. Two out of five young respondents said they were leaving for career purposes. Crucially, only 19.22% said they were planning to stay in Malaysia forever.

On a scale of 0 to 100 (most optimistic), the young respondents as well as the Malay respondents were the most upbeat. The Malay respondents gave an average rating of 46.92 points while the young had an average of 43.91 points. The overall average was 38.81. The Chinese respondents appeared to be the most pessimistic with an average rating of 36.61 points.

When asked about the most positive thing that had happened in Malaysia this year, most respondents said there had been none.

Those who thought there had been good things mostly identified the mass rapid transit (MRT) project’s on-time completion as well as the operation of the light rail transit (LRT) extensions. Many also hailed Malaysia’s success at the Paralympic and Olympic Games as a high point for the year.