Support for Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak fell among all the country's main racial groups in an opinion poll, signaling the tough fight he faces in an election in the Southeast Asian country on Sunday.
The survey, conducted between April 28 and May 2 among 1,600 voters, showed 42 percent of respondents believed the opposition Peoples' Pact of former Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim should be given a chance to govern. That was narrowly ahead of the 41 percent of respondents who said that only Najib's ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition could govern the country.
Seventeen percent were either unsure or refused to answer. It was the first time Merdeka had put such a question to voters.
The same poll showed that 50 percent of respondents had a positive view of the BN, while 34 percent had that view of the opposition. The poll did not cover Malaysia's Borneo island states of Sabah and Sarawak, a stronghold of the BN.
A Malaysian government spokesman called the poll "excellent news" for the ruling coalition, noting that Najib's rating remained relatively high.
Stocks on the local bourse fell 1.09 percent, reflecting unease over the election and partly offsetting gains this week.
"The fear of the outcome of the election and the uncertainty have been around for quite some time, but for those people who still have not sold, they have suddenly become fearful that the (National Front) may lose," said Ang Kok Heng of Phillip Capital Management Sdn Bhd.
Merdeka's poll showed support for Najib had slipped to 61 percent from 64 percent in March. Dips were recorded within all three main ethnic groups -- 75 percent of majority Malays backed him against 76 percent in March, while support among minority Chinese fell to 31 percent from 37 percent and among Indians to 68 percent from 70 percent.
Ethnic Malays are the bedrock of support for the coalition, which has been largely abandoned by ethnic Chinese voters, more than a quarter of Malaysians.
Merdeka Center attributed the falls to the fleeting effect of government cash handouts to low-income groups and of increased pay and pensions for 1.4 million civil servants.
The coalition suffered its worst electoral showing in 2008, losing its two-thirds parliamentary majority for the first time.
Most analysts predict the National Front will win narrowly on Sunday, but a failure to improve on the 2008 result could cost Najib his job and raise uncertainty over policy.
Despite robust economic growth of 5.6 percent last year, those polled expressed most concern about economic conditions.
The poll found support for Najib was highest among poorer Malaysians, reaching 75 percent among households earning less than 1,500 ringgit ($500) a month and lowest among households earning more than 5,000 ringgit a month, at 43 percent.