• REUTERS, KYODO, BLOOMBERG, JIJI

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New Prime Minister Fumio Kishida is struggling to find his footing with voters just two days after he was voted into office and launched his new government, multiple polls by local media showed on Tuesday.

On the lower end, the daily Asahi put Kishida's approval rating at 45% while Mainichi put it at 49%. The more conservative-leaning Yomiuri said 56% supported his government, while the Nikkei had 59%.

In all the polls, support for Kishida's new government was lower than that of his predecessor Yoshihide Suga's administration when it came into power last year, with the Asahi reporting a 20 percentage-point difference.

"I'm aware of the polling results, but also believe that there is quite a gap depending on the company that conducted the survey," said Kishida to reporters Wednesday morning.

"Regardless, I will reflect on my actions based on these results — including the low approval ratings — and continue to work hard toward the upcoming election," he added.

Although Kishida's ratings are low for a fresh administration, they are still higher than the most immediate ratings for Suga, who became deeply unpopular during his tenure as he struggled to contain a fifth wave of coronavirus infections, exacerbated by the delta variant.

Kyodo News survey showed the approval rating for the newly launched Cabinet stands at 55.7%, suggesting the public has mixed feelings on the new leader heading into a general election scheduled for the end of this month.

The figure comes a day after Kishida took office and announced he will dissolve the House of Representatives on Oct. 14 and go to the polls on Oct. 31 to seek a mandate for his COVID-19 and economic policies.

The approval rating fell short of the 66.4% for the Suga Cabinet upon its formation in September last year. The disapproval rating for Kishida's Cabinet was 23.7%, compared with 16.2% for Suga's at the start.

The most popular reason for supporting the Kishida Cabinet at 37.3% was because "there is no other good candidate."

The nationwide telephone survey of 1,087 respondents was conducted over two days after Kishida, leader of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, was elected prime minister by both chambers of the Diet.

An overwhelming majority of respondents, 69.7%, said they want a change from the policies of Suga and his predecessor Shinzo Abe, Japan's longest-serving prime minister who held power from 2012 to 2020.

In the survey, COVID-19 and the economy topped the list of issues Kishida should tackle, with each being chosen by 27.9% of respondents.

Regarding Kishida's economic policies — he has promised to implement a "new capitalism" that boosts growth and redistributes the fruits of that success to the middle class — 46.6% of respondents said they are hopeful while 46.9% said they are not.

A stimulus package worth "tens of trillions of yen" is in the works to support people and businesses reeling from the pandemic, the 64-year-old has said.

Approval ratings tend to be high at the start of a Cabinet as the public has high expectations for the new lineup.

Kishida is apparently aiming to capitalize on that goodwill by calling the general election earlier than expected.

Suga eventually saw his rating fall to 30.1% amid criticism of the government's COVID-19 response and he resigned after just over a year in office.

Kishida, who is set to deliver a policy speech and answer questions from party leaders in the coming days, will need to win over voters quickly to avoid a similar fate.

A strong mandate from voters will give Kishida's Cabinet, which is full of fresh faces with 13 of its 20 members taking a ministerial post for the first time, greater freedom to pursue his policies.

The Mainichi newspaper survey put support for Kishida at 49% — the lowest for a new leader in 13 years and an ominous sign with the looming election.

The Mainichi survey found support plumbed depths for an incoming leader not seen since Taro Aso scored 45% when he took over as prime minister amid the financial crisis in 2008. Aso served less than a year and his long-ruling Liberal Democratic Party was then ousted from power.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida speaks during a news conference at the Prime Minister's Office in Tokyo on Monday. | BLOOMBERG
Prime Minister Fumio Kishida speaks during a news conference at the Prime Minister’s Office in Tokyo on Monday. | BLOOMBERG

Asked whether they had positive expectations for Kishida’s Cabinet, 51% of respondents said they did not, while 21% said they did, the Mainichi survey showed. More than half of respondents said they didn’t approve of the appointment of Akira Amari, a member of Aso’s faction who is also seen as a close confidant of Abe, as the LDP’s No. 2.

Amari also faces lingering doubts over a past money scandal that forced him to step down as a Cabinet minister in 2016.

For single-seat districts, the Mainichi poll said that 41% of respondents would vote for the ruling coalition, while 34% would vote for the opposition and 24% were undecided. The Yomiuri put support for Kishida's Liberal Democratic Party at 43%, up 7 percentage points from the previous poll.

The opposition camp is on high alert over the early election.

At present, candidates of the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan (CDP) and the Japanese Communist Party (JCP) are seen competing in about 70 constituencies in the upcoming election.

Believing that they will be able to win seats in some 10 to 20 of the constituencies if they field unified candidates, the two parties are ready to accelerate talks on the matter.

But adverse developments for opposition parties are that the unpopular Suga's abrupt decision in early September to resign as prime minister has greatly changed the political landscape, and that public and media attention have centered on the LDP's leadership race for about a month.

The series of LDP events deprived the opposition side of opportunities to demonstrate their presence in the run-up to the general election.

"It's very reckless that the LDP is moving for the election while one-sidedly capturing media attention and preventing substantial debates from happening," JCP leader Kazuo Shii said.

"The LDP is desperate to dominate the media and hold the general election before its true nature is revealed," said Jun Azumi, Diet affairs head of the CDP, the biggest opposition party. "They may have to pay a price," he said.

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