Japan's leader sees popularity sink, seeks Cabinet shuffle

AP
With his government's approval ratings sinking to their lowest level since he returned to power, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe says he will reshuffle his Cabinet next month as he looks to rebound from his party's recent crushing defeat in Tokyo municipal elections.
AP

With his government's approval ratings sinking to their lowest level since he returned to power in 2012, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe says he will reshuffle his Cabinet next month as he looks to rebound from his party's recent crushing defeat in Tokyo municipal elections.

Results published Monday from the liberal Asahi newspaper's weekend poll showed support for Abe's Cabinet at 33 percent, down seven points from a week earlier, while disapproval stood at 47 percent, up five points. Polls by the conservative Yomiuri newspaper and NTV, both known as pro-Abe, showed similar results.

Experts say a slew of scandals, including a major one involving Abe, and the railroading of key legislation have hurt the prime minister's popularity, leading to his Liberal Democratic Party's heavy losses in the July 2 Tokyo assembly elections.

According to the Yomiuri poll, which was taken July 7-9, support for Abe's government fell to 36 percent, down 13 points from mid-June, while disapproval rose to 52 percent, from 41 percent. NTV's poll showed support fell to 32 percent.

"The size of the decline is shocking," the Yomiuri said, citing the 61 percent support that Abe's government had just two months ago. "While Prime Minister Abe repeats 'deep regret,' the public's distrust is growing more than ever."

Abe, traveling in Europe after the G-20 summit, told reporters Sunday that he would reshuffle his Cabinet in early August. The Cabinet is expected to replace some of the ministers criticized for problematic remarks and scandals.

In the absence of significant center-left alternatives and strong rivals in his party, Abe's tenure as prime minister is not under immediate threat. But Abe — in his second stint as prime minister, having served in 2006 and 2007 as well — now has to watch out for any development in a major ongoing scandal in which he is alleged to have helped a friend gain government approval for his new veterinary school.

On Monday, a former top education ministry bureaucrat told a parliamentary hearing that he believed the school's approval was influenced by the Prime Minister's Office.


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