Support for Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government has dropped below 50% for the first time in more than a year as respondents expressed dissatisfaction with his response to allegations of preferential treatment toward a conservative educator.
The cabinet’s approval rating plunged to 49% in a weekend poll by Nikkei Inc. and TV Tokyo, down 7 percentage points from May and 11 points compared with April. The government’s disapproval rating climbed 6 points to 42% — the highest since October 2015.
This marks the Abe cabinet’s most serious setback in public opinion since that year, when legislation expanding the armed forces’ remit ignited a public debate on Japan’s commitment to peace.
Now, the prime minister is facing allegations of favoritism over plans to establish a veterinary school in a government-designated special zone for deregulation. The prospective school operator, Kake Educational Institution, is headed by a friend of Abe’s.
The government insists that all of the proper procedures were followed in approving the new school. But a purported memo describing the project as in line with “the prime minister’s wishes” — a document whose credibility the government had questioned — has been found at the ministry of education after a second internal investigation.
The ruling coalition’s move to cut short the upper house debate on anti-conspiracy legislation also seems to have contributed to the drop in support. Among other things, the recently enacted law makes it a crime to plot terrorist attacks. Nearly half, or 47%, of respondents support the law, which has raised concerns among civil liberties groups, while 36% are opposed.
The cabinet’s approval rating fell among both men and women. Only 24% of respondents unaffiliated with any political party expressed support for the government, down 5 points from the previous survey.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is said to be mulling dissolving Japan’s lower house when the Diet convenes in January, seeking popular approval of territorial talks with Russia and a better chance at extending his term as party leader.
“I don’t know what the prime minister’s going to do, but a dissolution in January is possible — be prepared,” Finance Minister Taro Aso told junior lawmakers in his faction of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party in August. The minister reportedly urged Abe to take this course just ahead of the July upper-house election.
The Diet will be called into session in early January. Dissolving the lower house then would likely result in an election in late February. This could work to the LDP’s advantage: The leading opposition Democratic Party chose a new leader Thursday, and could be unprepared for an election early next year, an official in the ruling party said.
Calling an election would also be of symbolic importance for the Abe government. The prime minister this month expressed high hopes for a summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Japan planned for December — a prime opportunity to settle a longstanding territorial dispute over Russian-administered islands just north of Hokkaido.
An extraordinary session of Japan’s Diet is set to be convened Sept. 26 following an agreement between the government and the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, a top party official said Tuesday.
Speaking to reporters at party headquarters in Tokyo, LDP Secretary General Toshihiro Nikai said the party has settled on the date with the office of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
The extra session follows the LDP’s strong showing in July’s House of Councillors election on a platform of stepped-up economic policy. The election brought Abe’s goal of amending the Japanese Constitution closer after pro-amendment lawmakers achieved a supermajority legally required to kick-start the process.
The start date for the session has been fixed out of consideration for the main opposition Democratic Party, which will hold a leadership election Sept. 15.
According to a senior LDP member, Abe had suggested to the LDP a start date of Sept. 13 or 16 in order to make time to introduce a bill to ratify the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact.
The ruling Liberal Democratic Party and its coalition partner Komeito are set to win enough seats in Sunday’s upper house election to retain a majority in the house, according to Kyodo News exit polls.
Japan’s ruling bloc is expected to win at least 61 of the 121 seats up for grabs, exceeding Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s stated target, the polls showed. The coalition’s expected victory would give Abe a mandate for his “Abenomics” policies and his decision to delay a consumption tax hike.
The ruling camp and lawmakers supportive of amending the Constitution are set to win enough seats to form a two-thirds majority in the house, opening the way to proposing constitutional reforms.