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According to a new Merdeka Center survey, Malaysians prefer Defence Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein as a prospective prime minister over any of his Umno peers. ― File picAccording to a new Merdeka Center survey, Malaysians prefer Defence Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein as a prospective prime minister over any of his Umno peers. ― File picKUALA LUMPUR, March 11 — Malaysians prefer Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein by far as a prospective prime minister over any of his Umno peers, according to a new Merdeka Center survey.

The defence minister was selected by nearly one in five respondents, over twice as many as who opted for Youth and Sports Minister Khairy Jamaluddin or Home Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi with their scores of 8.6 per cent and 8.4 per cent respectively.

The preference for Hishammuddin was also near term, with almost the same proportion — 19.4 per cent — saying he should be the next prime minister after the current leadership moves on.

“Malaysians prefer Hishammuddin as he has the pedigree and the family name. He was in the limelight last year over the MH370 disappearance and was perceived to be handling it quite well,” Ibrahim Suffian was quoted as saying by news portal The Malaysian Insider.

“He’s not a controversial figure in the media, there have been no open discussions on his problems as minister, and people have all but forgotten the keris-waving incident of 10 years ago,” he was quoted further.

Ibrahim heads Merdeka Center that conducted the poll, which was commissioned by The Malaysian Insider.

Hishammuddin’s popularity also cut across racial and political barriers, as he was the top choice across the board among all three major races and supporters of Pakatan Rakyat (PR).

But Ibrahim was quick to point out that Hishammuddin’s selection by PR supporters did not indicate their preference for Barisan Nasional (BN) to continue ruling, but rather their acceptance that the coalition could not be immediately removed.

The turnaround in popularity for Hishammuddin — the son of third prime minister Tun Hussein Onn and the grandson of Onn Jaafar — in just as telling as Ahmad Zahid’s decline.

In the 2013 Umno election, Hishammuddin barely scraped through to come in last among the three elected vice presidents, a race that Ahmad Zahid easily dominated.

Ahmad Zahid was beaten to second place in the survey by Khairy owing to the former’s unpopularity among non-Malays, securing the approval of just 0.7 per cent of the Indian community and 1 per cent from the Chinese.

Outside of Umno, the next best placed prospects to be PM were PKR secretary-general Rafizi Ramli (3.9 per cent), Selangor Mentri Besar Azmin Ali (3.4 per cent) and PKR vice president Nurul Izzah Anwar (1.7 per cent).

The position’s changed when respondents were asked to name a replacement for the jailed Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim as federal opposition leader, with 13.9 per cent picking Azmin over the 7.1 per cent who named Rafizi. Nurul Izzah came in fourth, behind PAS’s Datuk Husam Musa.

The survey was conducted between January 21 and 30, and polled a total of 1,008 respondents. 

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