National / Politics

Cabinet’s support numbers tumble to 37%

Kyodo

Public support for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Cabinet has dropped 5.4 points to 37.0 percent on fresh revelations that have deepened cronyism and cover-up suspicions related to him, a poll showed Sunday.

The Cabinet’s disapproval rate stood at 52.6 percent, up from 47.5 percent in the previous Kyodo News survey two weeks ago.

The 37.0 percent approval rate is the second lowest poll result since Abe commenced his second stint as prime minister in 2012. The figure fell below 40 percent for the first time since a similar survey was carried out in mid-March.

A total of 79.4 percent of the respondents were dissatisfied with Abe’s explanations about revived allegations that he helped a friend secure government approval for a rare new veterinary school in Ehime Prefecture.

Over 66 percent said Abe’s former secretary should be summoned to the Diet after a new document showed he encouraged local officials in 2015 to proceed with the project, saying it was a “matter concerning the prime minister.”

Abe has so far denied issuing instructions that would have benefited his friend.

The nationwide telephone survey was conducted Saturday and Sunday after the document’s existence was revealed by the media and after a similar document was found at the farm ministry.

The revelation is another blow to Abe, who has struggled to dispel favoritism allegations linked to a steep discount on state land sold to a nationalist school chain linked to his wife, Akie.

The government has also been mired in scandals of document-tampering linked to another favoritism allegation leveled at Abe in connection with the sale of state-owned land and the cover-up of activity logs of a past Self-Defense Forces mission to Iraq.

A total of 67.7 percent said the Abe Cabinet is responsible for the slew of instances of inappropriate handling of official documents.

The scandals may also overshadow Abe’s bid to be re-elected in September as leader of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party. His return would allow him to continue pursuing his conservative agenda to revise the Constitution, drafted by the U.S.-led occupying forces after World War II.

As for who should be elected next president of the Liberal Democratic Party in September, Abe remained the third choice after former Defense Minister Shigeru Ishiba and Shinjiro Koizumi, a rising star who is a son of charismatic former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi. Ishiba and Koizumi Jr. drew support rates of 26.6 percent and 25.2 percent, respectively.

Abe garnered only 18.3 percent. It is the first time that Abe’s support has slipped below 20 percent.

About 57 percent opposed any constitutional revision while Abe serves as prime minister, and 32.3 percent expressed support.

By party, the LDP remained dominant with the backing of 36.8 percent of those polled, but it was down 2.3 points from the previous survey.

Meanwhile, 66.3 percent said Tadao Yanase, Abe’s former secretary, who has come to the public’s attention over a document on the veterinary school project, should be summoned to the Diet to offer an explanation, while 27.6 percent said that is not necessary for him to be called.

Yanase has insisted that he has no memory of meeting the local government officials as recorded in the document.

Natsuo Yamaguchi, head of the LDP’s junior coalition ally Komeito, indicated that Yanase should speak to the Diet over the issue, saying in a speech in Aomori Prefecture on Sunday that he cannot “overlook” the existence of the document.

The latest nationwide telephone survey, conducted Saturday and Sunday, covered 735 randomly selected households with eligible voters as well as 1,140 mobile phone numbers and obtained responses from 512 and 513 people, respectively.