National / Politics

Poll finds 58% of voters oppose dispatch of MSDF personnel to Middle East

Kyodo

A national opinion poll conducted by Kyodo News on Saturday and Sunday showed that 58.4 percent of voters are opposed to the dispatch of a Maritime Self-Defense Force unit to the Middle East, while 34.4 percent supported the effort.

The result is likely to give more ammunition to opposition lawmakers during the upcoming ordinary Diet session, which starts on Jan. 20, as some have criticized Prime Minister Shinzo Abe for the plan to send MSDF personnel to the region amid high tensions between Iran and the U.S. The two nations are at loggerheads over various issues, including Tehran’s nuclear program and the economic sanctions Washington imposed against the Middle Eastern nation.

Abe was in Riyadh on Sunday as part of his five-day diplomatic tour of the region to discuss ways to ease tensions there.

He told Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud that Japan is “deeply concerned” about the strained tensions in the Middle East.

Abe also said Tokyo wants to “closely cooperate” with Saudi Arabia to “tenaciously continues diplomatic efforts” to stabilize the situation in the region.

The survey also asked voters who they think is best suited to be prime minister after Abe’s term as Liberal Democratic Party president expires in September 2021.

Former Defense Minister Shigeru Ishiba placed in the top spot with 18.2 percent, followed by Abe at 13.1 percent followed by Environment Minister Shinjiro Koizumi at 11.8 percent.

The poll also found 52.2 percent are opposed to any form of constitutional revision as long as Abe is prime minister, while 35.9 percent support such a change.

In the same survey, 70.6 percent of those polled said the government should review and revise its plan to build casino-centered resort complexes in the wake of financial scandals involving lawmakers who allegedly received illegal funds from a Chinese firm. Only 21.2 percent said the government should proceed with casino plans as they are.

Meanwhile, 86.4 percent said they don’t believe Abe has provided a “sufficient explanation” in regard to the scandal involving a government-sponsored cherry blossom-viewing party.

The Cabinet approval rate stood at 49.3 percent, up 6.6 points from the previous survey in December. The disapproval rate, meanwhile, fell 6.3 points to 36.7 percent.

Japan recently legalized casinos only at integrated resorts (IRs), with the government planning to choose up to three locations for the complexes, which are expected to start operating sometime around the middle of this decade.

The screening process will involve casino operators submitting business plans in cooperation with local governments of towns and cities hoping to host such resorts.

In the meantime, Tsukasa Akimoto, a former member of Abe’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party and proponent of casino resorts in Japan, was arrested in December on suspicion of receiving ¥3.7 million ($33,800) in bribes from Chinese gambling operator 500.com Ltd.

Prosecutors have also interrogated five other lawmakers over the promotion of IRs, and they have also traced money allegedly brought into Japan by a former adviser to 500.com Ltd. in violation of the foreign exchange law.