Mon, Jun 25, 2007 - Page 5 News List

Abe government support declines as elections near

EXTENSION NECESSARY Japan's ruling LDP party scrambles to pass bills `important to the people's well-being' in the run up to upper house elections

AP , TOKYO

Next month's elections for Japan's upper house of parliament will be a referendum on the government's achievements and efforts to clear up a series of scandals that have dented its popularity, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said yesterday.

Abe has seen his support rates decline steadily during his nine months in office, and the run-up to next month's vote has become a fight for his political survival.

The Japanese people are watching how the government resolves the problems -- especially a scandal over missing pension records -- Abe told public broadcaster NHK in an interview on its Sunday Debate program.

"We need to explain clearly how we are carrying out our responsibilities for dealing with it [the pension records problem]," Abe said.

He said the government must also stress its achievements in areas including education reform and diplomacy since Abe took office last September, as well as its plans for the future, such as constitutional revision.

Polls show Abe and his ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) are in serious trouble. The Asahi Shimbun published an opinion poll last week showing support for the Cabinet falling to 32 percent, with disapproval rising to 51 percent. No margin of error was given

Next month's upper house elections have been pushed back a week after his ruling coalition extended the current parliamentary session on Friday.

The extension came so as to push bills aimed at resolving the pension records scandal, and at tightening restrictions on civil servants' post-retirement employment in the private sector.

Originally the session had been scheduled to end Saturday.

"The extension was necessary ... as we had three bills to pass during this session that are important to the people's well-being," Abe told NHK.

But Ichiro Ozawa, leader of the opposition Democratic Party, criticized the extension in an interview also aired on the NHK program.

Ozawa said it showed how the ruling coalition was using its parliamentary majority to circumvent democratic debate.

"The coalition needs to discuss matters more with the opposition and schedule time for more debate. Otherwise, this over-use of its numerical superiority will give off a sense of authoritarianism," he said.

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