If distrust spreads, it’ll be regime change at GE14, say analysts

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KUALA LUMPUR (Feb 24): Malaysians, regardless of their education level, are fast losing trust in Putrajaya, which could see the federal government ousted in the next general election, say analysts.

Commenting on the Edelman 2016 Trust Barometer Malaysia Report released yesterday, they said it showed that this distrust could mirror how people would vote in the next general election in 2018.

Although there was a gap between two segments of the population – university-educated and those who were not – in their trust towards the government, this was quickly diminishing, said independent pollster Ibrahim Suffian.

Internet as source of information

The Edelman study showed that overall trust towards the government was at 40%.

Those classified as “informed”, who possessed university degrees and earned in the top 25% of their age group, were less trusting. Only 34% of them trusted the government, compared with 39% of the “general public”, the study said.

The main reason for this plunge in trust is the pervasiveness of the Internet which has democratised access to information.

The Internet coupled with financial scandals, such as 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB), RM2.6 billion political donation, and the view that Putrajaya has mismanaged the economy, led to this plunge in trust, said political analyst Dr Lim Teck Ghee.

Media expert Prof Zaharom Nain said the rise in use of the Internet as a source of information coincided with the erosion in the credibility of the country’s institutions, such as the judiciary and media.

This trend started during the time of former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, said Zaharom, of University of Nottingham (Malaysia).

“It has worsened over the years and in recent times, when many of these institutions and personnel blatantly displayed a total lack of professionalism, independence and neutrality,” said Zaharom, who teaches media and communications studies.

But the 4% difference in trust between the better informed and general public was marginal and diminishing as more and more Malaysians get wired to the Internet, said Ibrahim of the Merdeka Center.

The overall Internet penetration rate, said Ibrahim, was 80% throughout the country while 60% of Malaysians now use it as a source of news.

The difference between those two groups in terms of government trust was in the details, Ibrahim said.

“For example, a CEO and her driver probably have roughly the same idea about the government even though one is more educated than the other. This is because both would get information on the Internet and social media.”

The difference was that while the CEO may understand the details of 1MDB, the driver not, said Ibrahim, adding that the latter still got the point about it being a huge scandal.

Dissent has spread

The dip in trust among those termed the “general public”, including low- and middle-income Malaysians, was a critical development, said Lim.

“It shows that dissent, which first started in the urban areas, has now spread to the rural areas.”

In the 13th general election, Barisan Nasional was able to stay in power despite amassing only 47% of the popular vote because of its support in rural areas in the north and northeast of the peninsula, and Sabah and Sarawak.

Ibrahim said although rural folk still relied on television and traditional media for information, they were still able to get alternative viewpoints from their children who travelled to cities to work.

“There are very few communities that are truly isolated in Malaysia and alternative viewpoints have spread, thanks to the Internet,” said Ibrahim.

If the level of distrust towards the government was also low among the rural population, said Lim, and this did not improve, there could be a new government in Putrajaya in the next election.