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Former defense chief Ishiba overtakes Abe as top choice for prime minister in poll

Bloomberg

Former Defense Minister Shigeru Ishiba overtook scandal-hit Prime Minister Shinzo Abe as the best person to lead Japan, an opinion poll showed Tuesday.

Ishiba was seen as the most appropriate choice for prime minister by 20.4 percent of respondents to the poll conducted by the Sankei newspaper and FNN TV network, while 19.7 percent picked Abe. In a similar survey in December, Ishiba’s 10.9 percent lagged behind the 34.5 percent who favored Abe.

With support for Abe’s Cabinet nose-diving amid a series of gaffes and scandals, Ishiba has emerged in recent weeks as one of the strongest critics of the prime minister within the ruling Liberal Democratic Party. He told Fuji TV after the LDP suffered a heavy defeat in a Tokyo election this month that the party was in crisis, and he has questioned Abe’s haste in pushing to revise the 70-year-old pacifist Constitution.

Ishiba, 60, who served as minister for regional economies under Abe, has hinted that he may run for the LDP presidency in a vote due in September 2018, just months before a general election must be held. He came second to Abe in a party leadership contest in 2012.

In a recent interview, Ishiba said the government must remain committed to wiping out its deficit by 2020, and monetary policy should be used to boost pay and investment, rather than raising prices. He also said it would be a problem if the Bank of Japan’s current massive easing program continued indefinitely.

Abe and his aides are facing two days of questioning in the Diet over why one of his close friends received government backing to open the country’s first veterinary college in decades. He is set to shuffle his Cabinet early next month in a bid to claw back support.

Shinjiro Koizumi, the telegenic son of a former prime minister, came third in the poll with 9 percent, while the populist Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike was fourth with 8.9 percent. The telephone survey of 1,000 people was conducted July 22-23.