Japan's ruling block feels heat from survey

​TOKYO (The Japan News/ANN) - The Japan government and ruling parties are feeling a greater sense of urgency after the approval rating for the Cabinet of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe declined in the latest Yomiuri Shimbun survey. 

The fall is apparently due to the government’s poor handling of the Kake Educational Institution issue and the high-handed management of the Diet at the end of the latest session. 

The upcoming Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly election could be affected, with campaigning officially kicking off on June 23 and voting and ballot counting taking place July 2. 

Harsh result

 Although it has long been said that Abe reigns as the predominant force within the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, his Cabinet approval rating in the latest survey marked a double-digit decline — significantly shocking the government and ruling parties. 

 “The result was worse than expected, and we would like to accept it humbly,” said Hakubun Shimomura, executive acting secretary general of the LDP, on Sunday. 

 Natsuo Yamaguchi, the leader of the LDP’s coalition partner Komeito, said, “It is important to show the attitude that we are ready to manage the administration both humbly and carefully.” 

 Yosuke Tsuruho, state minister for Okinawa and northern territories affairs, said: “It is regrettable. We must take the decline seriously and humbly.”

 Observers said these senior members of the ruling parties all used the term “humbly” because of a sense of urgency that the public might be labeling the Abe administration as “arrogant.”

 The lowest approval rating since the second Abe Cabinet was launched was 41 percent in September 2015, just after the passage of the security-related laws. 

In comparison, the latest approval rating of 49 percent can be seen to still be at a high level, on the surface.
 However, some believe the present situation is more serious than when the security legislation was passed.

 “Rather than the pros and cons of individual policies, a sense of distrust toward the administration itself apparently lies behind the decline in the approval rating,” a government source said. 

Few explanations

 The survey result suggests many in the public have cast a stern eye not on the details of policies, but on the government’s lack of thorough explanations.

 Although 50 percent of respondents favorably accepted the passage of a bill to revise the Law on Punishment of Organized Crimes and Control of Crime Proceeds — which is mainly intended to criminalize the planning and preparations to commit acts of terrorism and other serious offenses — 80 percent replied that they did not feel the government had provided sufficient explanations. 

 Regarding the issue involving the establishment of a new department of veterinary medicine at the Kake Educational Institution, there is strong criticism against Abe, who has had a friendly relationship with the head of the institution for many years.

 The most cited reason for not approving the Cabinet, which stood at 48 percent, was “Not being able to trust the prime minister.” 
 The government’s sluggish response to the Kake issue worsened the confusion.

 Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga initially described relevant internal documents as “something like nasty anonymous pieces of writing,” while opinions were divided between the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry and the Cabinet Office over whether it was clearly stated that the new department’s establishment was in line with “the prime minister’s wishes.” 

 Despite such circumstances, the Diet session was not extended from its official close on Sunday and the truth was not brought to light. This apparently caused frustration among the people, according to a veteran LDP member. 

 “It has been pointed out that the government did not provide sufficient explanations, so we must thoroughly do so,” Suga said at a lecture in Sendai on Sunday.   

‘Do what we can’

 Regarding the upcoming Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly election, a view is spreading that complaints about the government and the LDP could see voters cast ballots for opposition candidates.

 Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Koichi Hagiuda, who has been criticized by opposition parties for his possible involvement in the Kake issue, said in a street speech in Tokyo on Sunday, “I’ve never distorted administrative affairs.” 

 Some LDP members say it would be better to avoid having Abe come forward during campaigning for the assembly election, such as by asking him to deliver a campaign speech for LDP candidates. 

 The Abe administration intends to make its presence felt by using its strong point of diplomacy after July and accelerate efforts to reorganize the government by reshuffling the Cabinet and LDP leadership as early as late August. 

 “There are no measures to immediately recover from a loss,” Abe said to a close aide. “We have no choice but to strenuously do what we can.” 
 However, a harsh election result for the LDP could deal a blow to Abe, who is aiming to turn the approval rating around.