Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak is expected to retain his grip on power despite 1MDB and other issues plaguing his administration, according to experts at the Straits Times' Global Outlook Forum panel discussion.
Independent pollster Merdeka Centre director Ibrahim Suffian claimed that the Malay-Muslim electorate would place their trust in Umno and PAS, as opposed to Pakatan Harapan parties.
He said bread and butter issues are expected to top the concerns of Malaysian voters in the next election.
"Top of the mind in terms of what voters care about are the cost of living issues. Those, rather than the 1MDB issue, are the main factors affecting the public mood," he was quoted as saying by Singapore's Straits Times.
"If we ask the man on the street what concerns them, most would say it's the economy. Younger people want jobs that are commensurate with their qualifications, those aged 25 to 35 are concerned about housing prices, and those older are concerned about their retirement and whether they have more than the minimum to sustain themselves," he added.
“Many Malaysians have actually gone beyond the issue (1MDB), and this has been bundled together in what they perceive to be leadership weaknesses.”
Ibrahim pointed out that Malaysians are feeling the pressure of rising prices after the government introduced the GST and cut subsidies.
These concerns, however, would not be sufficient to see Umno and BN losing its control of Putrajaya.
Race and religion matters
Ibrahim said this is because race and religion play a pivotal role in the Malaysian political landscape, with voters throwing their support behind parties they believe would be able to protect their interests.
He is also of the opinion that former premier Dr Mahathir Mohamad's Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (Bersatu) would not be able to make inroads since voters are still in the dark about the fledgling party.
Furthermore, he said Bersatu would find it tough to survive without an electoral pact among the opposition members not to contest each other's seats.
"Can the opposition unite? While they can no longer form a united opposition pact, the question is whether they will have the common sense not to contest against each other at the next election," he added.
Similarly, Ong Keng Yong, ambassador-at-large at Singapore's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, was also optimistic about Najib's prospects in the election.
"People may have their views on 1MDB and the party politics, but if you go by what Ibrahim has said, based on the government performance and the state of the race and religious relations, I don't feel there is enough to shift people away from him.
"I don't think he can do worse than what he did in 2013. The more people talk about religion and race, the more the trust factor comes into play, and Malay voters will stick with what they know, because they don't trust that the other parties will retain what they are comfortable with," added the former Singapore high commissioner to Malaysia.
Beware of undercurrents
Sharing her views on the Malaysian economy, another panelist, Selena Ling, said the country has hit all the right notes.
Ling, who is OCBC's head of treasury research and strategy, noted that Malaysia has seen strong growth, low inflation, and stable foreign direct investment.
On the same note, she pointed out that Malaysia faces challenges to its fiscal deficit as well as its relatively high government and household debt levels.
“Although things are healthy at headline level... there are all these undercurrents that you have to watch out for,” she said.
The forum, organised by the Straits Times, in partnership with OCBC Premier Banking, was titled "Malaysia's Next GE: The Perils And Prospects". It was held at the OCBC centre yesterday.