A majority of Japanese firms want Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to finish his current term to September 2021 but fewer than one in five say he should stay beyond then, a Reuters poll has showed as allegations that he broke campaign laws erode public support.
Opposition lawmakers allege Abe favored supporters with invites to an annual state-funded cherry blossom-viewing party and may have broken campaign laws by subsidizing backers’ attendance at a reception the night before. Questions have also arisen over whether a gangster attended the state-funded event and why this year’s invitation list was shredded.
The prime minister has denied any wrongdoing.
Abe quit after his first, troubled term from 2006 to 2007. He returned to office in December 2012 promising to revive the economy. In November, he became Japan’s longest serving prime minister, breaking a record set over a century ago.
“A lengthy administration invites concentration of power and corruption may easily emerge, but there is no other politician with the experience and ability,” a manager at a textile firm said in a written response to the recent poll, explaining why they thought Abe should stay on.
Fifty-nine percent of respondents said Abe should complete his term as Liberal Democratic Party leader but then step down. Another 16 percent want him to stay longer.
An extension of Abe’s time in office would require a rule change by the LDP, whose president is virtually assured the role of prime minister if the party stays in power.
Twenty-five percent, though, said he should quit sooner.
“Domestically there is a feeling of stagnation, and friction with neighboring countries has emerged,” wrote a manager at a transport-equipment firm.
Japan’s relations with U.S. ally South Korea have chilled due to a feud over their shared wartime legacy, although ties with China have improved.
Media polls have shown the cherry blossom affair chipping away at voter support, although backing for the fragmented opposition remains weak. A Mainichi newspaper survey published Monday showed a six point drop in support for Abe’s Cabinet, to 42 percent, from October.
The decline has not ended speculation that Abe might call a snap Lower House election to renew his mandate.
Former Defense Minister Shigeru Ishiba, an outspoken Abe critic, topped — by a narrow margin — the list of lawmakers respondents want to see in the prime minister’s role when Abe’s term ends, with 17 percent to Abe’s 16 percent. Shinjiro Koizumi was preferred by 11 percent.
The corporate survey, conducted from Nov. 20 to Dec. 2 for Reuters by Nikkei Research, canvassed 502 big and midsize nonfinancial companies. Roughly 240 firms answered the questions on politics on condition of anonymity, in order to be able to express opinions freely.