The other day, while sipping a glass of wine at a dinner attended mainly by professionals working in KL, I was fascinated to gain an insight into what they were concerned about.
The general sentiment was that Najib is a liability to the nation and his leadership is a drag on the economy. His declining popularity and the plunging government approval ratings come as no surprise.
1MDB and the RM2.6bn was the most talked about issue. The attorney general’s handling of the case came under much criticism. Zeti and the Rulers are right; this was the key issue of concern and if it is not resolved, confidence is not likely to be restored, and the drop in the ringgit will be more pronounced than neighbouring countries’ currencies, eventually resulting in imported inflation and shrinking domestic demand.
Most were interested in the possible vote of no-confidence but they were sceptical if it would be allowed to see the light of day.
The motive in the Kevin Morais murder continued to draw some residual concern.
Quite a few of these professionals have children studying abroad, and most are excelling in their studies. But sadly, I don’t think any of these students studying abroad are planning to return home once they have completed. In fact, most of the parents are advising their children to stay put where they are. That itself is a massive vote of no confidence in the administration. What a huge brain drain and loss of talent for the country.
Those present complained about the latest round of toll increases. Now, if even well paid professionals are expressing shock about the hefty toll hikes, which will further push up the cost of living in the next six months, can you imagine the pain this is causing the lower-income group?
One reader of a news portal asked: Is this a case of the government taxing the urban population via higher tolls so that it can channel the money via higher BR1M to the lower-income group, a large number of whom live in rural areas, where many of the BN seats lie? But what about the lower-income group in the urban areas?
Let’s look at Najib’s approval rating:
Oct 2012 – 65%
Nov 2012 – 63%
Apr 2014 – 50%
June 2014 – 48%
Jan 2015 – 44%
You can imagine what it is like after the GST in April 2015 and the latest toll hikes.
Government’s approval rating:
Oct 2012 – 48%
Nov 2012 – 45%
May 2013 – 43%
Oct 2014 – 38%
Jan 2015 – 38%
Aug 2015 – 23%
Mind you, this was before the toll hikes, the red shirts rally, and the Rulers’ statement on 1MDB.
How long can Najib hold out before Umno decides he is a liability ahead of the next general election? Will higher BR1M payments and lop-sided constituency redelineation be enough to compensate for his ebbing popularity? Or has he reached the point of no return? Once trust is lost, it may not be easy to regain it.
Already, we can see cracks in Umno in the tussle between the old guard and Najib’s supporters. Expect these cracks to develop into serious ruptures.