July 28 (Bloomberg) -- Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s approval rating fell to less than 50 percent in at least the sixth survey this month after his effort to ease restrictions on the military sapped his popularity.
Support for Abe’s cabinet fell 5 percentage points to 48 percent, the lowest since his election in December 2012, in a poll published today in the Nikkei newspaper. The cabinet’s disapproval rating rose 2 points to 38 percent, the newspaper said. No margin of error was given.
The slide in Abe’s popularity accelerated this month after his cabinet on July 1 passed a resolution to reinterpret the pacifist constitution to allow the military to defend allies. The move prompted rare street protests and added to public discontent over a sales tax increase in April.
“The constitutional reinterpretation inflamed public opinion,” said Liu Jiangyong, professor of international relations at Tsinghua University in Beijing who specializes in Japan studies. “The poll results serve as a warning, but it won’t do much to undermine Abe’s ruling position.”
That’s because Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party-led coalition holds majorities in both chambers of parliament, and national elections aren’t due before 2016. Support for the opposition Democratic Party of Japan was at 6 percent in the Nikkei poll.
“His frog marching the nation rightward seems to carry few risks as the political opposition is fragmented and in disarray,” said Jeff Kingston, Director of Asian Studies at Temple University in Tokyo. “Voters have no alternative to the LDP.”
The softening support for Abe and his party may still hurt him on the local level. In the first election since the passage of the collective self-defense resolution, LDP-backed candidate Takashi Koyari lost a July 13 vote for governor of the western prefecture of Shiga to a former DPJ lawmaker.
Abe and the LDP face higher-profile elections in Fukushima and Okinawa before the end of this year.
His government has also been more stable than other recent administrations, and his cabinet is the longest-lasting without personnel changes since World War II, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said this month.
That’s about to change as Abe plans to reorganize his cabinet, probably in the first week of September, public broadcaster NHK reported on its website today, citing Economy Minister Akira Amari.
Abe won election in a landslide in 2012 and the initial success of his economic policy, which boosted growth and fueled gains in the benchmark Topix stock index of more than 50 percent last year, pushed his approval rating to as high as 76 percent in a Nikkei survey in April of last year.
“His support rate is diminished because the public had such a high expectation of him when he took power,” said Liu. “But it’s not that low compared to that of the several short-term prime ministers before him.”
Abe, who has been in power less than two years, is the longest serving of the country’s last six leaders.
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