Economy, cost of living top rakyat’s concerns

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As the post-May 9 euphoria dies down, Malaysians are again moving from big-picture concerns to more immediate worries that directly hurt their pockets and quality of life.

That much is clear from a two-week online survey conducted by The Edge, which sought to capture how Malaysians feel about the new government they voted in on May 9 in the 14th general election (GE14).

The survey ran between Dec 1 and 14 and drew 5,105 respondents, three out of four of whom were male. Nearly 70% of the participants reside in Kuala Lumpur and Selangor, which are seen as strongholds for the parties within the Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition.

Here’s an interesting divergence from the survey findings: While respondents are generally positive or even forgiving about the PH administration in general, they are less so when it comes to the economy and cost of living, with economic growth and high cost of living topping their concerns about the new year.

This was gleaned from a closer look at the promises kept and promises broken — or at least delayed — since PH’s unexpected triumph at the polls.

The coalition has made good on some of its promises, including abolishing the Goods and Services Tax (GST), rooting out corruption and unshackling investigations into major scandals such as that involving 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB).

That these promises were fulfilled swiftly would explain the sentiment on the political landscape, among others, which is seen to be healthier than it was a year ago, according to 66.82% of respondents.

And with grand corruption being a key theme going into GE14, it is no surprise that the crackdown on graft after the election sat well with most respondents.

Some 39% of them feel that the PH government is doing well in tackling corruption, with another 40% saying that while it is doing okay, it could also do better.

On the whole, a third of the participants rate PH as managing the country and addressing major issues well, with another 30% rating its performance as “average”.


Broken promises

However, the pledges fulfilled are mainly governance-related. On the other side of the coin are promises related to the economy and the people’s cost of living woes — things directly impacting their pockets.

And this is where PH has been stumbling. Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad himself conceded at one point that many of the promises were unrealistic as PH did not expect to win in the first place.

Some of the broken — or, to be fair, delayed in some cases — promises include the postponement of National Higher Education Fund Corporation (PTPTN) loan repayment for lower-income earners, and the abolition of highway toll charges nationwide.

More crucially, PH also promised before the election that it would take steps to reduce the cost of living within its first 100 days in power but has not made much progress.

When asked how well the government has managed the economy so far, 49.23% say it is too early to tell. The rest are split between optimism and pessimism — 27.42% think Putrajaya will do well but the other 23.35% say outright that they do not trust the current government to properly manage the economy.

That sentiment is roughly consistent with how respondents feel when asked whether the PH government is making the right moves in addressing cost of living matters.

Some 43.62% do not always agree with PH’s policy decisions in this respect but think it is moving in the right direction. Another 29.83% think the government is not attacking the core issues underlying cost-of-living concerns.

It is worth noting that more respondents feel that PH is worsening the rakyat’s cost of living problems (16.12%) than improving it (10.42%).

Overall, when asked whether they see better economic prospects ahead than they did a year ago, respondents are almost evenly split among “yes” (34.83%), “no” (28.31%) or “no difference” (36.87%).

The bright spot, however, is that PH can still make up for lost time. About 54% of the respondents are confident that the government will be able to improve its performance given more time.

That said, the caveat is that Putrajaya should not dawdle but get its act together quickly. Otherwise, it could lose even more of the rakyat’s faith.

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