• Bloomberg, Jiji


Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has seen his support rate take its first hit since assuming office a month ago, over criticism he injected politics into a decision to reject nominees for an academic advisory council.

A poll conducted by public broadcaster NHK between Oct. 9 to Oct. 11 found support for Suga’s Cabinet had fallen by 7 percentage points to 55% compared with the previous month.

About 47% of respondents said his decision on the advisory board was unacceptable, and many also faulted him over border openings they believe were rolled out too quickly and could spread the COVID-19 virus.

Suga’s government has faced a barrage of questions over his decision to reject six of 105 nominees to the Science Council of Japan, a government-funded academic body that makes policy recommendations. Previous prime ministers had rubber-stamped nominations for the council, established in 1949, and critics have said Suga’s move appeared to be aimed at excluding critics of government policy.

Sources said Monday that Suga knew the names of six nominees before they were excluded from among candidates for the Science Council.

The sources said that Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Kazuhiro Sugita was involved in the decision to exclude the six nominees in question.

In an interview Friday, Suga had said he did not see the full list of the 105 nominees recommended by the SCJ, suggesting that he was not involved in the decision.

However, the sources said Sugita picked the six nominees who would be excluded from the list and that the prime minister confirmed the names of the six.

The law on the SCJ, a special organization at the Cabinet Office, stipulates that the prime minister appoint the members of the council based on its recommendations.

Opposition parties including the Constitutional Democratic Part of Japan held a joint hearing on the issue Monday. Participants accused Suga of clearly violating the law.

Suga was installed as prime minister in September, taking over from former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Japan’s first change of leadership in almost eight years. Suga came into power with some of the highest support rates on record for a new Japanese prime minister, with voters backing his pledges of continuity for managing a virus-hit economy.

While the switchover took place without a general election, Suga initially attracted public approval for a pragmatic policy agenda including a pledge to reduce mobile phone bills.

Market participants have been reassured by his pledge to carry on the ultraeasy monetary policies of his predecessor, known as "Abenomics.”

Suga was elected by the long-ruling Liberal Democratic Party to serve out the final year of Abe’s term as party leader after he resigned over health concerns.

The new prime minister has repeatedly said the public doesn’t want a general election during the pandemic, and that his priorities are to contain the virus and its economic fallout. No election need be held until September next year, and support for the CDP remains in single figures.

Nevertheless, any rapid fall-off in his support could prompt Suga to bring forward the election to improve his chances of re-election to a full three-year term as party leader next autumn.

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