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.
Chinese government vessels entered the waters surrounding the disputed Senkaku Islands for a third consecutive day Tuesday, in an apparent provocation designed to bolster President Xi Jinping’s standing at home following recent diplomatic disappointments.
Up to 13 coast guard vessels sailed through the contiguous zone beyond the territorial sea around the Senkakus, according to the Japanese coast guard. Four made a total of 10 entries into territorial waters around the islands, which they left by 7 p.m. that night.
Chinese government ships have now entered the waters on four separate days this month. Tuesday’s incident also marks China’s first time entering the area three days in a row since the end of 2012, right after Japan nationalized the islands, which China claims for itself as the Diaoyu.
Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida summoned Chinese Ambassador to Japan Cheng Yonghua to the ministry that day to protest the incursions.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga also promised a fellow member of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party that he would put every effort into the Senkakus issue.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government is putting pressure on the fiscally conservative Ministry of Finance to satisfy expectations for a bold new shot of the first arrow of Abenomics — fiscal spending.
But critics say that the contents of the stimulus package matter more than its apparent size, which is easy to inflate. Some observers now see the tally rising to between 20 trillion yen and 30 trillion yen ($189 billion and $283 billion) after off-budget items are counted.
The chairman of business lobby Keidanren, Sadayuki Sakakibara, is among those urging “large-scale” on-budget expenditures, he told an audience in Nagano Prefecture on Thursday.
The trial balloon floated by the Finance Ministry missed expectations. There had been talk in the financial markets and elsewhere that general-account budget items alone — known as mamizu, or “fresh water,” in Japanese government jargon — would amount to 5 trillion yen to 10 trillion yen. Then came the revelation that flagging tax revenue growth and other constraints would leave less than 1 trillion yen available for stimulus.