Sept. 21 (Bloomberg) -- Prime Minister Naoto Kan’s moves to weaken Japan’s currency and shake up his administration have made him more popular as he seeks broader support for his economic agenda after surviving a leadership challenge.
Kan’s approval surged 18 percentage points from August to 64 percent in a Sankei newspaper survey published today that follows his Sept. 17 Cabinet reshuffle. He had similar gains in polls conducted by other major newspapers, showing his highest level of support since he took office in June.
Kan “looks a lot more like a leader now,” said Jeff Kingston, head of Asian Studies at Temple University’s Tokyo campus. “It’s amazing how successful he’s been at re-inventing himself.”
Japan sold the yen for the first time since March 2004 last week, one day after Kan defeated rival Ichiro Ozawa in a Democratic Party of Japan leadership race on Sept. 14. Increased public support may bolster Kan’s bid to fulfill the DPJ’s pledges to boost spending on social welfare without adding to the world’s largest public debt.
Approval for Kan’s administration rose 2 percentage points from the previous week to 59 percent, according to an Asahi newspaper poll published yesterday. A Yomiuri newspaper survey on Sept. 19 put his support at 66 percent. The Mainichi newspaper said the same day his approval rating climbed to 64 percent from 48 percent.
Voter support for Kan also comes amid mounting tensions with China after Japan arrested the captain of a fishing boat that collided with two Japanese Coast Guard vessels in disputed waters. China has called for the immediate release of the fisherman and on Sept. 19 severed senior-level government contacts after Japanese prosecutors extended the captain’s detention until Sept. 29.
After winning party elections to remain prime minister, Kan vowed to “overcome the past 20 years of deflation, create a strong economy and revive employment.” He said he is considering additional stimulus steps including a supplementary budget after unveiling a 915 billion yen ($10.7 billion) economic package earlier this month.
Still, Kan faces hurdles in translating his rising popularity into legislative achievement, Kingston said. The opposition Liberal Democratic Party, which the DPJ ousted from power last year, opposes many of Kan’s proposals.
“The chances of the LDP cooperating with him are very Low,” Kingston said. “His stance will be to portray the LDP as blocking legislation from helping the economy.”
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