• Kyodo

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Public support for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Cabinet has risen 1.9 points to 38.9 percent from the previous month even as cronyism allegations linger over the Kake Gakuen veterinary school project linked to his close friend, a poll showed Sunday.

The weekend poll by Kyodo News found 75.5 percent were dissatisfied with the Diet testimony given by Abe’s former aide Tadao Yanase on Thursday, when he admitted meeting officials from the school operator, run by Abe’s friend Kotaro Kake, but denied doing so at Abe’s direction.

Abe has been struggling to dispel allegations of cronyism, including over whether he aided Kake’s campaign to win government approval in 2017 to open Japan’s first university veterinary department in half a century.

The Cabinet’s disapproval rate fell to 50.3 percent from 52.6 percent in the previous survey.

Nearly 70 percent of the respondents also said the government’s approval process for the Kake project was “not appropriate,” versus 16.9 percent who said otherwise.

Yanase’s appearance in the Diet for questioning was much anticipated after a local government was recently found to have kept a memorandum of a meeting with Yanase in 2015, which showed the then-secretary to Abe had called the project a “matter concerning the prime minister.”

Yanase denied he had any specific plan in mind at the time but admitted to meeting Kake Gakuen officials three times in 2015.

Critics have said it is rare for a prime minister’s secretary to meet people from the private sector multiple times. Opposition parties said it was obvious from Yanase’s remarks that Kake Gakuen was treated well.

Respondents were divided on whether Finance Minister Taro Aso should resign over his controversial remarks in connection with the alleged sexual harassment of a reporter by his ministry’s top bureaucrat, who just retired.

Asked about Aso’s comment that the reporter may have sought to frame the bureaucrat, a remark he later retracted, 49.1 percent said Aso should quit and 45.5 percent said he need not do so.

“Such a possibility can’t be ruled out,” Aso said during a session of the Lower House financial committee after saying the reporter had intentionally tried to get then-Administrative Vice Minister Junichi Fukuda to make sexual advances.

Aso drew criticism after making similar comments last month, saying, “There are many opinions among the public, including that (Fukuda) was entrapped and now he is being accused.” He also said that “there is no such thing as a sexual harassment charge (in the Penal Code).”

As for who should be elected in the ruling Liberal Democratic Party’s September presidential election, Shinjiro Koizumi, a rising star in the party and the son of former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, secured the top spot with 26.6 percent support.

Former Defense Minister Shigeru Ishiba came in second, backed by 24.7 percent, followed by Abe at 21.2 percent.

But Abe was the most popular figure among respondents who support the LDP, getting 45.8 percent. Shinjiro Koizumi followed with 20.4 percent.

By party, the LDP remained the most popular, garnering 37.1 percent of support.

Not many people appeared enthusiastic about a new party recently launched by the merger of the Democratic Party, which was once the main opposition force, and another opposition party. Only 18.1 percent said they have “expectations” for the new party, named the Democratic Party for the People.

The support rate for the main opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan stood at 13.3 percent.

The nationwide telephone survey was conducted Saturday and Sunday.