Abe Support Slumps to Record Low as Japan Public Loses Faith

  • Abe has been hit by a series of scandals, minister gaffes
  • Abe cancels trip to Estonia, brings forward cabinet reshuffle

The Argument for Abe's Plan to Rescue Japan's Economy

Support for Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe slumped to record lows in three media polls over the weekend, as public trust in the premier evaporated amid a stream of scandals, while a former minister called for him to be replaced.

The Yomiuri newspaper, generally seen as supportive of Abe’s government, found support for Abe’s cabinet had fallen 13 percentage points from a survey last month to 36 percent. Polls conducted by NTV and the Asahi daily found similar drops in approval.

Abe appears to have switched into crisis management mode. After his ruling party’s worst ever performance in Tokyo elections last weekend, he has cut short a trip to Europe and expedited a cabinet reshuffle in a bid to restore public support. He faces potential challengers in a party leadership race next year and must hold a general election by December 2018.

"We want to accept the recent fall with sincerity as the opinion of the people, as the prime minister has also said," Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters in Tokyo on Monday. "We want to press ahead with humility, keeping economic revival as our top priority."

Read here about the LDP’s historic Tokyo election defeat

Until recently, Abe boasted stable support rates that made him look likely to become Japan’s longest-serving prime minister, but he has stumbled over his handling of a cronyism scandal involving one of his own close friends. He’s also faced opposition to his plan to rush through a revision of the pacifist constitution.

Senior party lawmakers including Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida and former Defense Minister Shigeru Ishiba are growing increasingly critical of Abe, with local media saying they are likely to emerge as leadership rivals.

"We have no choice but to change our leader," former administrative reform minister Seiichiro Murakami, an LDP lawmaker, said in an interview last week. He laid the blame for the Tokyo election humiliation at the premier’s door, saying it would be "impossible" for Abe to restore confidence.

While his position is safe for now, Abe has much work to do to prevent his rating dropping into the danger zone. Analysts led by Daiju Aoki at UBS Group AG said he could start facing pressure from within his party to resign if his numbers fall under 30 percent. Such tensions could generate nerves in the market about the continuity of Abenomics, they said in a report.

Abe’s support dropped below 30 percent before he resigned from a previous stint as prime minister in 2007.

Grown Arrogant

More than two-thirds of respondents to the Yomiuri survey said Abe’s administration had grown arrogant after being in power for an extended period, while 72 percent said more explanation was needed about the scandal involving a veterinary school run by his friend. A former bureaucrat who spoke out about the issue is giving testimony in parliament Monday.

Abe’s policies attracted little support in the polls. About 75 percent of respondents to the NTV poll said they felt he had not done enough to deal with the threat posed by North Korea. Respondents were divided over a trade agreement with Europe and a plurality disagreed with his plans to change the pacifist constitution.

The prime minister has brought forward a planned cabinet reshuffle to early August in a bid to restore the electorate’s trust, NHK said. Finance Minister Taro Aso and Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga are likely to remain in their posts, while Defense Minister Tomomi Inada is set for replacement after coming under fire over gaffes, the broadcaster said. Former defense minister Gen Nakatani called for a thorough overhaul of personnel in comments broadcast by Fuji television.

While the ruling Liberal Democratic Party suffered its worst-ever defeat in the Tokyo assembly election on July 2, there is little coherent opposition in the national legislature and scant appetite for Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike’s political group to take a national role, the polls showed.

— With assistance by Takashi Hirokawa

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