A mere 29.6 percent of voters support Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori’s Cabinet, according to a Kyodo News public opinion poll released Wednesday, the second worst initial support rate for a Cabinet since 1974.

According to the interview poll, conducted over the weekend, 60.7 percent of respondents said they disapprove of Mori’s Cabinet, which was launched April 5.

The survey received responses from 66.2 percent of the 3,000 eligible voters questioned nationwide.

The lowest approval rating for a new prime minister’s Cabinet was 25 percent, which was recorded shortly after the late Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi launched his Cabinet in July 1998.

Among those who said they do not support Mori’s cabinet, 32.3 percent said they do not trust the prime minister, while 19.6 percent said they are dissatisfied with Mori’s leadership.

The percentage of New Komeito party supporters who also back the Cabinet stood at 36.4 percent, as opposed to the 62.3 percent that supported Obuchi’s Cabinet in a March survey. The current Cabinet disapproval rating stands at 54.5 percent, a jump from 31.8 percent in March.

New Komeito, along with Mori’s Liberal Democratic Party and the New Conservative Party, form the ruling coalition.

The diminished support among New Komeito supporters follows controversy surrounding comments Mori made before a gathering of Shinto-supporting lawmakers, saying Japan “is a divine nation centering on the Emperor.” New Komeito is backed by Soka Gakkai, Japan’s largest lay Buddhist organization.

Even among LDP supporters, Mori’s Cabinet lost support, with 55.9 percent saying they back it, down from the 73 percent who expressed support for Obuchi’s Cabinet in March.

However, Mori’s unpopularity failed to affect his own party, as support for the LDP increased to 39.1 percent, up 7.1 percent over the previous survey.

The Democratic Party of Japan, the main opposition force, scored 13.3 percent, down 0.2 points.

Mori to explain again

Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori will hold a press conference Friday to explain the intentions behind his remark that Japan is a “divine nation centering on the Emperor,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Mikio Aoki said Wednesday.

Mori will speak at the Prime Minister’s Official Residence “to explain his intentions (in making the comment) and to seek the public’s understanding,” Aoki told a regular press conference.

Mori apologized before the Diet on May 17 for causing confusion with the remark, which some critics say echoes nationalistic sentiment seen in Japan before and during World War II.

He explained that his comment did not refer to the emperors of the prewar era, who were considered deities, and that he was not making reference to any particular religion, including Shinto. However, he has refused to retract the comment, which he made March 15 before a pro-Shinto group of lawmakers.

Criticism has continued to grow after the apology, and recent opinion polls have shown a sharp decline in public support for Mori’s administration.

Opposition parties have claimed the remark runs counter to the principle of separation of church and state, as spelled out in the Constitution. They plan to jointly submit a no-confidence motion to the Diet against Mori’s Cabinet.

Meanwhile, Takenori Kanzaki, head of New Komeito, one of the ruling triumvirate, told a separate news conference the same day that he believes the public’s “misunderstanding” of the comment has not yet sufficiently abated, and that Mori should retract it.

Members of New Komeito, a political party backed by Buddhist lay organization Soka Gakkai, initially expressed surprise and concern at the “divine nation” comment.