National

Abe Cabinet approval rate falls below 50% for first time since July as scandal takes its toll, poll shows

Kyodo

The approval rating for the Cabinet of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has dropped to 48.7 percent, down 5.4 percentage points from the previous survey in late October, after the opposition camp accused Abe of using publicly funded cherry blossom-viewing parties for election campaigning, a survey showed Sunday.

It was the first time since July the approval rate has dropped below 50 percent.

As a reason for not supporting the administration, 36 percent said they can’t trust the prime minister, up 8.2 percentage points from the previous survey.

The Kyodo News telephone survey of 1,034 registered voters, conducted Saturday and Sunday, also showed around 66 percent of Japanese voters are relieved that South Korea has decided to maintain a military intelligence-sharing pact with Japan.

The latest survey was conducted after Abe, who had said he was not involved in the guest selection process, admitted Wednesday that he had some say regarding who should be invited to the parties.

It has come to light that hundreds of Abe supporters were invited to the events, hosted by prime ministers since 1952 to honor people such as athletes and celebrities for their accomplishments.

The prime minister was allowed to recommend as many as 1,000 guests. His wife, Akie, also put forward names.

In the latest survey, 59.9 percent of the respondents said the prime minister should not have invited so many supporters from his constituency, in Yamaguchi Prefecture, to the parties.

While Abe has canceled next year’s event as the government reviews the scale and invitation criteria of the parties, 64.7 percent of respondents said they want them scrapped.

Meanwhile, South Korea said Friday it was suspending its decision to terminate the General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA). Seoul’s announcementin August that it would pull out of the pact followed Tokyo’s tightening of export controls on some materials for the chipmaking industry and the removal of South Korea from Japan’s whitelist of trusted trade partners.

Reached in 2016, the accord is mainly aimed at countering the North Korean nuclear and missile threat, and facilitating three-way defense cooperation with the United States. Seoul had demanded that Tokyo reverse its tightening of export controls.

Japan-South Korea ties, which have long been haunted by wartime history, sank to their lowest level in years after South Korea’s top court in October last year ordered a Japanese steelmaker to pay compensation for forced labor during Japan’s 1910-1945 colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula, an issue that Japan argues was settled under a 1965 bilateral accord. A similar ruling was given to a different Japanese company the following month.

Following South Korea’s eleventh-hour decision to suspend the expiration of GSOMIA, the foreign ministers of Japan and South Korea agreed Saturday to arrange for Abe and South Korean President Moon Jae-in to meet in late December, a sign that the feuding countries are ramping up dialogue after Seoul decided to suspend the termination of theintelligence-sharing pact.

Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi and his South Korean counterpart, Kang Kyung-wha, confirmed that a trilateral summit including Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, to be held in Chengdu, in southwest China, would be a good opportunity for their leaders to hold one-on-one talks.

As for Abe’s bid to amend the pacifist Constitution to clarify the legal status of the Self-Defense Forces, 49.2 percent said they were against constitutional revision by the current administration.

The survey also showed that 50.6 percent opposed the International Olympic Committee’s decision to move the marathon and race-walking events of the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games to Sapporo due to concern over heat and humidity, while 43.4 percent viewed the decision as appropriate.