Noda’s Support Slides as Policy Deadlock Weighs on Economy

Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda
Yoshihiko Noda, Japan's prime minister. Photographer: Kiyoshi Ota/Bloomberg

Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda’s popularity sank to a new low as a standoff deepened with opposition leaders who want him to schedule new elections in exchange for considering legislation needed to fund the budget.

Support for Noda, leader of the Democratic Party of Japan, fell five percentage points to 18 percent, according to an Asahi newspaper poll published today, after he failed last week to persuade the opposition to back him on the legislation without promising a specific election date. A survey by broadcaster Nippon Television showed support for his cabinet down seven points to 20.8 percent.

A scandal involving the justice minister has also undermined Noda’s efforts to boost his party’s chances in elections that must be called by August. The legislative deadlock leaves him with few options to revive a faltering economy being hit by plummeting exports amid a territorial dispute with China, Japan’s biggest trading partner.

“If they hold an election now the DPJ will obviously lose,” said Katsuhiko Nakamura, director of research at Asian Forum Japan. “Having said that, Noda cannot resign because the Democratic Party has no one else to offer as a leader. They are in an impasse.”

Talks with main opposition Liberal Democratic Party leader Shinzo Abe and New Komeito leader Natsuo Yamaguchi, whose support is needed to pass bills in the upper chamber of parliament, fell apart last week. The two opposition party leaders said they could not cooperate on the passage of bills without a firmer commitment on the election.

Falling Exports

A government report today showed September exports fell the most since the aftermath of the March 2011 earthquake, as a strong yen and the dispute with China increased the chances of a contraction in the world’s third-largest economy. Finance Minister Koriki Jojima has said the government will run out of money at the end of November unless a bill authorizing the issuance of deficit-financing bonds is passed.

Noda reached a deal with the opposition in August to double the five percent sales tax in return for promising to call elections “soon.” Last week he said he wanted support on changes to electoral constituencies and on establishing a framework for revising the social security system, as well as on the bond bill, before fulfilling his pledge.

Economy Minister Seiji Maehara said yesterday that he expected an election to come before the end of the year.

“It seems to me that ’soon’ doesn’t mean next year,” he said on Fuji Television.

Personal Capacity

Almost 50 percent of respondents to the Asahi poll said they favored an election by the end of the year. Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura declined to comment on the polls at a press briefing in Tokyo and said he believed Maehara had been speaking in a personal capacity.

The government will hold a special session of parliament starting Oct. 29 for about a month, DPJ acting secretary general Jun Azumi told reporters today.

In a blow to Noda’s administration, Justice Minister Keishu Tanaka was hospitalized on Oct. 19 after NHK television said he would resign for attending a gangster’s wedding decades ago and accepting donations from a foreign national. Tanaka has returned the donations, saying they were received without his knowledge, and said he didn’t know gangsters were involved in the wedding.

The 18 percent approval rating was Noda’s lowest in an Asahi poll since he took office in September 2011. Asked how they would vote in the proportional representation section of the next election, 13 percent of respondents opted for the DPJ, down four percentage points on the previous poll three weeks ago. About 36 percent picked the LDP, up six percentage points.

The Asahi surveyed 1,620 people by telephone on Oct. 21 and 22. No margin of error was given for either the Asahi or the Nippon TV poll.

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