Tue, Jul 10, 2007 - Page 5 News List

Support for Abe plumbs new depths

NEW FIGURES Of those surveyed, 51 percent do not support the ruling government, a 3 percent increase from the last newspaper opinion poll

AP , TOKYO

Japan's first female Defense Minister Yuriko Koike delivers a speech to officers as she inspects the Maritime Defense Force's naval base in Yokosuka yesterday. Koike replaced former defense chief Fumio Kyuma last week after he resigned over his remarks that the 1945 nuclear attacks on Nagasaki and Hiroshima ``couldn't be helped.''

PHOTO: AFP

Japanese are growing increasingly dissatisfied with the scandal-hit government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, with its disapproval rate hitting the highest level yet, according to opinion polls published yesterday.

The results come as the ruling coalition struggles with a series of scandals and embarrassments ahead of crucial parliamentary elections later this month.

A humiliating loss in the polls could prompt leaders of Abe's Liberal Democratic Party to seek his replacement.

The Asahi Shimbun said 51 percent of the 1,065 respondents to its latest telephone survey said they do not support Abe's government, up from 48 percent in the previous survey and the worst showing yet in the daily's series of polls.

The government's support rate edged up to 31 percent in the survey, conducted on Saturday and Sunday, from the 28 percent figure recorded in the previous poll, the paper said.

The showing reflects public dissatisfaction with how the government has handled several recent scandals, including lost pension records affecting millions of cases, and the resignation last week of the defense minister, who caused a storm of criticism by suggesting the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 were inevitable, the paper said.

Replacement Yuriko Koike is now the first woman to take the position of Japanese Defense Minister.

Abe had to extend this year's parliamentary session -- pushing the elections back one week to July 29 -- to push through legislation partially resolving the missing pension records.

Slightly less than one-third of the Asahi's poll respondents said they approve of the government's handling of the problem, up from less than one-quarter in the previous survey, the paper said. Fifty-six percent disapproved, down from 59 percent, it said.

In a separate telephone survey of voters also conducted on the weekend and released late yesterday, Kyodo News agency said the disapproval rate for Abe's government rose to 58.8 percent, up 0.7 of a percentage point from a poll the previous weekend and a record high. Kyodo interviewed 1,256 people.

Nearly 90 percent of the 309 declared candidates for the upper house election have said that reforming the pensions system would top their agenda if elected, Kyodo found in another poll, also released yesterday.

Meanwhile, Japan's main opposition Democratic Party unveiled its manifesto yesterday, saying it will clean up the pension-scandal and provide financial benefits to families with children to help stem Japan's low birth rate. The Democrats will also secure ?15.3 trillion (US$124 billion) to finance new projects by streamlining the administration, not by hiking consumption taxes.

The government took a further blow over the weekend amid media and opposition party allegations that newly appointed Agriculture Minister Norihiko Akagi reported ?90 million in office expenses over the past decade for a political office that was registered at his parents' address and no longer operated.

Akagi -- who took office last month, replacing his predecessor who committed suicide following money and bribery scandals -- has acknowledged using his parents' home to run a political group, but has denied any illegality in his accounting.

Top government spokesman Yasuhisa Shiozaki yesterday reiterated Minister Akagi's explanation that he has reported everything that is required under the laws covering such political funds.

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