Disapproval of Japan PM Suga's Cabinet at new highs over Olympics, Covid-19 curbs

Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga's rivals may smell blood amid the weak public confidence in his leadership.
Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga's rivals may smell blood amid the weak public confidence in his leadership.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

TOKYO - Approval for Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga's Cabinet has tanked with the public jaded by ineffective Covid-19 curbs and growing anxieties over the Olympics that will start next Friday, results of two media surveys released on Monday (July 12) have shown.

The public opinion polls, by national broadcaster NHK and conservative broadsheet Yomiuri Shimbun, were conducted from last Friday to Sunday.

Worryingly for Tokyo 2020 organisers, both polls found sizeable opposition towards the Olympic Games. Four in 10 respondents of the Yomiuri survey nationwide wanted the event to be scrapped, though this was as high as one in two among Tokyo residents. Some three in 10 nationwide told NHK they were opposed to the Games.

Still, another four in 10 respondents for both surveys felt the decision to bar spectators from the Games was "appropriate", though a small minority of about two in 10 felt that limited numbers of spectators should be allowed.

The polls were conducted after Mr Suga's announcement last Thursday of a fourth state of emergency over Tokyo from Monday to Aug 22. This covers the entire duration of the Olympics, and comes a mere three weeks after the previous emergency was lifted.

The move came as Tokyo becomes the epicentre of Japan's fifth wave of Covid-19, driven by coronavirus variants including Delta, as the vaccination campaign hits a speed bump.

Adding fuel to the fire was a government threat, which has since been rescinded, to apply financial pressure on food and beverage businesses that refuse to observe government curfews or an all-day ban on alcohol service for dine-in customers.

According to the NHK, support for Mr Suga's Cabinet stood at 33 per cent, down four points from last month to the lowest score since he took office in September. Disapproval, meanwhile, rose one point to a new high of 46 per cent.

The Yomiuri poll had Mr Suga's Cabinet support at 37 per cent - flat from last month - while disapproval grew three points to a new high of 53 per cent. Among Tokyo residents, support for the government stood at just 28 per cent.

Driving the dissatisfaction towards the government was the perceived inefficacy of Covid-19 measures. In both the NHK and Yomiuri polls, 56 per cent of respondents felt that the fourth state of emergency will likely be ineffective in curbing infections.

This was as high as 73 per cent among Tokyo residents, the Yomiuri survey said.

An analysis by Yomiuri noted that survey results for Tokyo were traditionally aligned with the national outcome, and that the big difference this time suggests "heightened dissatisfaction with the government among Tokyo residents".

The ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), which has been banking on the public mood to shift drastically in favour of the Olympics before a general election that must be called by Oct 21, will be highly distressed by the results.

Mr Suga is himself up for re-election as LDP president in a party poll in September.

While the LDP has publicly backed Mr Suga, who took office only last September, his rivals may smell blood amid the weak public confidence in his leadership. But any quick change at the helm will be reminiscent of the revolving door of six prime ministers who led Japan from 2006 to 2012.

The LDP lost three national by-elections in one day in April, and suffered a major electoral upset in Tokyo on July 4 when it failed to win a clear majority in the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly elections.

Yomiuri noted that a sense of crisis has been spreading within the LDP, with former party policy council chairman Fumio Kishida quoted as saying: "The people have become disgusted by the composition of the LDP and its condescending attitude."