TOKYO - Support for Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's government is slipping in the face of doubts about his more muscular security policy, according to a newspaper survey released yesterday, amid concerns Mr Abe's ruling party wants to muzzle its media critics.
Mr Abe has promised Tokyo's key ally Washington that he would enact Bills to implement a historic defence policy shift this summer. But in a sign that the goal looks tough, his ruling bloc last week extended the current session of Parliament to Sept 27.
The percentage of voters opposing his Cabinet rose to 40 per cent, the highest since he took office in December 2012 promising to reboot the economy and bolster Japan's defence, according to the survey by Nikkei business daily and broadcaster TV Tokyo. Support slipped three points to 47 per cent.
A majority - 56 per cent - oppose his plan to end a self-imposed ban on exercising the right of collective self-defence, or militarily aiding a friendly country under attack, a move that could allow Japanese troops to fight abroad for the first time since Tokyo's defeat in World War II 70 years ago.
Echoing other surveys, the poll showed 81 per cent feel the government's explanation for the change has been insufficient.
Mr Abe's push to enact the Bills in parliament, where his ruling bloc has a comfortable majority, has run into glitches.
Last Saturday, his Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) sought to limit fallout from remarks by lawmakers backing Mr Abe that critics said threatened press freedom.
One MP was stripped of his post as head of the LDP's youth division and three others reprimanded. Mr Abe had declined to apologise for the lawmakers' remarks at a study group, including a suggestion that corporate sponsors should be pressured to withdraw advertising from media critical of the government.
That flap followed another blow earlier this month when a respected constitutional scholar speaking at a parliamentary panel shocked his LDP hosts by saying the security legislation would violate Japan's pacifist Constitution, a view shared by the majority of academics.
Mr Abe's ruling coalition can push the Bills through Parliament given its majority, but any perception of it doing so without enough debate could further dent his support rates even as he eyes re-election as LDP president in a party poll in September.