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Malaysia in transition

Mahathir wins 71% public approval three months into leadership

Malaysian ruling coalition faces growing challenges

Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad continues to win popular support three months into government.    © AP

KUALA LUMPUR -- The new Malaysian government led by Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad has sustained public support following its unexpected election victory in May even as challenges begin to pile up.

In a poll unveiled on Wednesday to mark the government's 100th day in office on Friday, 71% and 67% of those surveyed gave the thumbs-up to Mahathir and his party, Pakatan Harapan, respectively. The survey by independent pollster Merdeka Center for Opinion Research showed Mahathir's support level was higher at 83% in the aftermath of the election in May, the highest for a leader in five years.

"A majority of voters appear satisfied with the new government's intent to reform and appear to accept that some promises could not be delivered within the first 100 days," the pollster said in a statement.

The results indicated voters' satisfaction at the ouster of scandal-tainted former Prime Minister Najib Razak, whose approval rating plummeted to 38% a month before the election. In May, Malaysians elected to install a new government for the first time since independence from British rule in 1957, although the new administration returned a previous leader, Mahathir, to power.

The pollster also warned the government of challenges ahead in managing "heightened public expectations" and an opposition that is attempting to shake people's confidence in the leadership by deploying tactics around race and religion. While a majority expressed satisfaction in the way the government has steered the country since May, 64% of the voters said the economy remained their top concern, rather than public safety and political issues.

Political risk adviser Eurasia Group identified several risks ahead in the medium term. It said that as post-election euphoria ebbed, the pressure for the government to fulfill its populist manifesto will rise.

There is also uncertainty on the transition of power to Anwar Ibrahim, a previous political opponent to whom Mahathir had promised to transfer power subsequently. But Anwar has yet to win a seat in the parliament, a prerequisite to becoming prime minister.

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