Webinar on “Coalitions, COVID-19 and Change in Malaysia”

In this webinar, Mr Ibrahim Suffian shared his findings on public perception towards the change of government in March 2020, and approval ratings for the newly installed Perikatan Nasional government in tackling the COVID-19 pandemic.


Friday, 5 June 2020 – The ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute organised a webinar on “Coalitions, COVID-19, and Change in Malaysia”, delivered by Mr Ibrahim Suffian. Mr Ibrahim is the co-founder of Merdeka Center for Opinion Research, and presently serves as the Center’s programs director.

Mr Ibrahim Suffian (left) presented on surveys of public opinion carried out by the Merdeka Centre over the past three months in regards to key issues facing Malaysia at the current juncture. Dr Francis Hutchinson, Senior Fellow from the ISEAS – Yusof Ishak institute, moderated the webinar. (Credit: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)

Mr Ibrahim explained that Malaysians recognised COVID-19 to be a serious public health threat, with compliance rate for Movement Control Order (MCO) at 96 per cent within a week of implementation. He shared that the survey pertaining to COVID-19 was conducted in late March, about a week after MCO was first implemented. According to his survey, MCO had resulted in a significant loss of income among low-income and lower middle-income Malaysians as these groups reported an inability to work from home. Respondents also commented that women suffered a larger fall in income, since the former had to shoulder caregiving duties as a result of school closure. In addition, 75 per cent of respondents commented that MCO had an adverse impact on their personal finances, while only 27 per cent had sufficient savings to meet their personal needs and financial obligations for the upcoming two months. However, despite the economic impact of MCO, Mr Ibrahim further commented that Malaysians were largely satisfied with the strategies implemented by the Perikatan Nasional government to tackle COVID-19. Satisfaction rate in the federal government, Prime Minister and Ministry of Health towards their handling of COVID-19 hovers around 80 per cent.

Mr Ibrahim subsequently shared the prevailing public sentiments towards the change of government in March 2020, where the ruling Pakatan Harapan collapsed and was replaced by Perikatan Nasional. He commented that the Pakatan Harapan administration was well received by Malaysians in the immediate aftermath of May 2018 General Election, with approval ratings at 64 per cent. However, the euphoria for Pakatan Harapan dissipated as electoral promises for democracy and human rights remained unfulfilled. In addition, cost of living remained a salient issue while the opposition successfully mobilised Malay sentiments against Pakatan Harapan. Approval ratings for Pakatan Harapan thus declined to 26 per cent by end 2019, while the ruling coalition also lost a string of by-elections during the same year. Mr Ibrahim also shared his opinions on Malaysia’s political climate in the near term. He commented that the political climate would remain volatile as Perikatan Nasional has a razor thin majority in parliament. In addition, internal divisions exist within Barisan Nasional and Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia which further complicates intra-coalition cooperation. Should Dr Mahathir and Anwar Ibrahim put aside their present differences and collaborate, Pakatan Harapan may well secure a majority in parliament. Lastly, Mr Ibrahim concluded that a snap election remains possible should both coalitions fail to secure a substantial majority in parliament.

A robust online question-and-answer session followed Ibrahim Suffian’s presentation. Among the questions raised were the voting patterns across Malaysia should a snap election occur, court cases against former Prime Minister Najib Razak, political dynamics between Sarawak and Perikatan Nasional, Dr Mahathir’s popularity post “Sheraton Move”, among others. The webinar attracted 170 participants from Singapore and abroad.

Over 170 participants attended the webinar. (Credit: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)