Poll: Musharraf’s popularity at all-time low

Musharraf’s popularity at all-time low: US survey: Majority of respondents against govt-PPP deal
By Amir Wasim: Dawn, October 12, 2007

ISLAMABAD, Oct 11: A majority of people in Pakistan think that the country is heading in a wrong direction and the present government does not deserve to be re-elected because of its poor performance.

According to a survey conducted by the International Republican Institute (IRI) of the US Republican Party and released here on Thursday, 56 per cent of the people said their economic condition had worsened over the past one year and 65 per cent said they felt less secure today.

Another interesting finding of the survey is that a majority of respondents were opposed to a deal between President Pervez Musharraf and Pakistan People’s Party chairperson Benazir Bhutto.

The poll was conducted between August 29 and September 13 and the randomly selected sample consisted of 4,009 men and women from 256 rural and 144 urban areas of 60 districts in the four provinces.

The survey says: “As the national mood continues to sour, President Musharraf continues to bear the brunt of this voter dissatisfaction and his approval rating has dropped to an all-time low of 21 per cent, from a high of 63 per cent in September 2006.”

In addition to declining approval ratings, Gen Musharraf’s points fell in several other categories as well. The percentage of voters saying that President Musharraf should resign increased by seven points to 70 and his favourability rating dropped by 13 points to 22. Further, when asked to name the best leader for Pakistan, Gen Musharraf dropped to third place, behind both Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif.

In IRI’s February 2007 poll, President Musharraf’s re-election was supported by 50 per cent while 40 per cent opposed it. Since then, his support has seen a consistent drop. In IRI’s September poll, the support for his re-election dropped to 23 per cent (74 per cent did not support).

During August, amid talk of a potential deal between Ms Bhutto and Gen Musharraf, PML-N chief Nawaz Sharif cemented his image as the real opposition leader challenging President Musharraf’s rule. His image was also helped by the unfolding drama of his return to Pakistan after over six years of exile. His favourability rating remained at 53 per cent, up three points from June, and he polled 15 points in the “Best Leader for Pakistan” category, with 36 per cent of voters selecting him. His “Best Leader” number was high in Punjab where he was the choice of 55 per cent of those surveyed.

Ms Bhutto’s positioning as a ‘sometime opponent’ of President Musharraf as well as a ‘potential partner’ in a power-sharing deal created ambiguity in the minds of voters. Those selecting her as the best leader declined slightly to 28 per cent (down four points). However, Ms Bhutto was still leading in Sindh and Balochistan, although she came in third in Punjab and the NWFP. More dramatic than her leadership support was a drop in her personal image, with her favourability rating dropping 18 points, putting her behind Mr Sharif.

ARMY’S ROLE: When voters were asked if they agreed or disagreed with the statement that the army should not play a role in the civilian government, 62 per cent agreed that it should not while 30 per cent disagreed, representing an increase in opposition since the June poll.

When asked if President Musharraf should resign as army chief, 76 per cent said yes (up from 62 per cent in June). And when asked if Gen Musharraf should retain the role in order to promote stability (an argument often used by the government) 76 per cent disagreed, indicating that this line of reasoning did not carry any weight with them.

The IRI poll indicated a drop in all major indicators of public mood. An astonishing number of voters say the country is headed in a wrong direction. Continuing the trend witnessed in IRI’s June poll, the number of voters saying the country was headed in the wrong direction rose to 73 per cent, while those saying the country was headed in the right direction decreased to 19 per cent.

ECONOMIC SITUATION: When asked about their personal economic condition over the course of the upcoming year, 27 per cent responded that it would improve, while 22 per cent said it would get worse.

When asked if they agreed or disagreed with the statement “I feel more secure this year than I did last year”, 23 per cent said they agreed (down from 39 per cent in June) while 65 per cent said they disagreed (up from 56 per cent in June).

When asked how has the government performed on the issues most important to them, 22 per cent gave the government good marks while 75 per cent rated its performance poorly. An overwhelming majority stated the ruling coalition did not deserve to be re-elected.

MUSHARRAF-BENAZIR DEAL: Over the course of the past three IRI polls, voter opinion on a potential deal between President Musharraf and Ms Bhutto has somewhat see-sawed. Thirty-five per cent supported the deal while 49 per cent opposed. However, the voters of both the PPP and the ruling PML indicated that they would support such a deal, although by a decreasing margin when compared to the June poll.

Voters were also somewhat cynical in regard to Ms Bhutto’s motives for such a deal. When asked why they thought Ms Bhutto was considering such a deal, 47 per cent said it was to improve her ‘personal situation’ while 27 per cent felt it was to bring democracy to Pakistan. The PPP voters were much more trusting of their leader’s motives, with 47 per cent feeling it was in order to bring democracy to Pakistan while 27 per cent feeling it was for personal reasons.

ELECTIONS: Voters’ party preference for the coming elections witnessed some drastic changes between IRI’s June and September polls. Mirroring the changes in leader preference and popularity, PML (N) moved 17 points into first place with 36 per cent, while PPP slipped into second with 28 per cent. The ruling PML, which previously had remained relatively steady, found its support giving out due to political turmoil, slipping seven points into third place at 16 per cent.

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