Support for Abe slumps amid doubts over school scandal

In a public opinion poll, support for Mr Shinzo Abe slumped to 44.9 per cent, amid opposition party suspicions that he used his influence unfairly to help a friend set up a business.
In a public opinion poll, support for Mr Shinzo Abe slumped to 44.9 per cent, amid opposition party suspicions that he used his influence unfairly to help a friend set up a business.

Japan PM's grip on power not in danger but issue unlikely to fade soon as opposition claims erode public trust in him

TOKYO • Support for Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe slumped more than 10 points to 44.9 per cent in a public opinion poll, amid opposition party suspicions he used his influence unfairly to help a friend set up a business.

Mr Abe has repeatedly denied that he abused his authority to benefit his friend. While his grip on power is not in danger, given his ruling coalition's huge majority in Parliament, the matter looks unlikely to fade away any time soon.

The education ministry unearthed documents last week that the opposition said suggested Mr Abe wanted a new veterinary school run by a friend to be approved in a state-run special economic zone. The ministry had earlier said it could not find the documents but reopened the probe under public pressure.

Opposition politicians and the media have identified Mr Abe's friend as Mr Kotaro Kake, the director of the Kake Educational Institution, which wants to open a veterinary department. The government has not approved new veterinary schools for decades because of concern about a glut of veterinarians.

Nearly 85 per cent of voters responding to a Kyodo news agency survey, which was published yesterday, said they did not think the Tokyo government probe had uncovered the truth of the affair and almost 74 per cent were not persuaded by the government's insistence that there was nothing wrong with the approval process.

The institution has asserted that it had acted appropriately.

Meanwhile, voters were split over last week's enactment by Parliament of a controversial law that will penalise conspiracies to commit terrorism and other serious crimes, with 42.1 per cent in favour and 44 per cent against the legislation, Kyodo said.

The government says the new legislation is needed so Japan can ratify a United Nations treaty aimed at global organised crime and prevent terrorism in the run-up to the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.

Opponents say it will allow police to trample on civil liberties by expanding the scope for surveillance.

The ruling coalition pushed the law through Parliament last week, taking the rare step of skipping a vote in committee and going directly to a full session of Parliament's upper house.

Almost 68 per cent of voters expressed dislike of that rarely used tactic, Kyodo said.

Elsewhere, Japanese daily Yomiuri Shimbun said Mr Abe intends to reshuffle his Cabinet and the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) leadership as early as late August.

The opposition parties appear ready to increase their offensive on the administration over issues such as the creation of a new veterinary department by the Kake Educational Institution.

To deal with this, as well as prepare for drafting a Bill to revise the Constitution and carrying out work style reforms in autumn and later, Mr Abe has judged that a new structure is needed, according to government and LDP sources.

It would be the first Cabinet reshuffle since August last year after the House of Councillors election.

REUTERS, WASHINGTON POST

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 19, 2017, with the headline 'Support for Abe slumps amid doubts over school scandal'. Print Edition | Subscribe