• Kyodo, Reuters

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The approval rate for Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga's new Cabinet stands at 66.4 percent compared with a disapproval rate of 16.2 percent, a Kyodo News survey showed Thursday, confirming solid public support for Japan's first new leader in nearly eight years.

While a direct comparison cannot be made due to differing polling methods, the figure compares with 62.0 percent for his predecessor Shinzo Abe's Cabinet upon his return to power in December 2012.

Among prime ministers who took office after 2000, only Junichiro Koizumi and Yukio Hatoyama had higher ratings at the beginning of their tenures, at 86.3 percent and 72.0 percent, respectively.

Suga, leader of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, was elected prime minister by the Diet on Wednesday. Abe's right-hand man as chief Cabinet secretary, Suga has said he will build on Abenomics, a mix of measures aimed at beating deflation and spurring growth in the world's third-largest economy.

In the nationwide telephone survey, which was conducted over two days from Wednesday and collected about 1,000 responses, 58.7 percent supported Suga's promise to continue policies set out by Abe, while 32.4 percent did not.

On Suga's Cabinet lineup, with eight ministers retained from the previous administration, including Finance Minister Taro Aso and Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi, and just two women, Justice Minister Yoko Kamikawa and Olympics minister Seiko Hashimoto, 49.2 percent viewed it favorably while 40.6 percent had a negative view.

In response to a multiple-choice question on the issues the Suga administration should focus on tackling, the most common answer was the COVID-19 response with 64.1 percent, followed by the economy and jobs at 35.2 percent; pensions, medical and nursing care at 23.8 percent; and "fiscal consolidation" at 18.4 percent.

On the best timing for the next general election, 55.1 percent said at or near the end of the House of Representatives' current term in October 2021.

A separate survey by the Nikkei newspaper and TV Tokyo showed 74 percent support, the third-highest for an incoming Cabinet in the poll's history, with positive replies noting Suga's "trustworthy" personality.

There has been speculation that Suga could take advantage of the strong support, indicated by media polls even before officially taking office, to call a snap election soon to solidify his grip on power.

On Wednesday, however, Suga remained tight-lipped, saying that what Japanese most wanted was to contain the coronavirus outbreak and revive the battered economy.

"This is the first thing I want to work on with my new Cabinet," he told reporters.

On Thursday morning, Suga had a breakfast meeting with Hiroshi Miura, an experienced election strategist, at a Tokyo hotel, leading to speculation that they might have been discussing the timing and strategy for a Lower House snap election.

Asked which party they plan to vote for under the proportional representation system, 44.4 percent of respondents said the LDP, 9.0 percent said the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, 6.1 percent said Nippon Ishin no Kai and 5.9 percent said Komeito, the LDP's junior coalition partner.

Asked about the CDP — the main opposition party led by Yukio Edano, which merged with a smaller opposition party earlier this week — 36.9 percent said they view it favorably, while 55.8 percent said they do not.

The survey, covering 688 randomly selected households with eligible voters and 1,277 mobile phone numbers, yielded responses from 501 and 502 people, respectively.

U.S. President Donald Trump on Thursday congratulated Suga for taking over from the long-serving Abe a day before, and said he hopes to talk with the new leader in the near future.

"Congratulations Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga. You have a great life story! I know you will do a tremendous job for Japan and for the world. Look forward to talking soon!" he tweeted.

While he had few occasions to travel overseas as chief Cabinet secretary, a post also responsible for crisis management, Suga has pushed back against concerns that he lacks diplomatic experience. He has said that he was present at most of the telephone calls between Abe and Trump and involved in all important policy decisions.

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