Japan's Liberal Democratic Party anxious over fall in approval ratings

Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida wants to leave his post in Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's cabinet reshuffle next month, domestic media says, a sign he may be planning to challenge the increasingly unpopular leader for the top job.
Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at an EU-Japan summit in Brussels. With approval ratings for his party falling, Mr Abe plans a personnel reshuffle on Aug 3.
Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at an EU-Japan summit in Brussels. With approval ratings for his party falling, Mr Abe plans a personnel reshuffle on Aug 3.PHOTO: REUTERS

TOKYO (THE JAPAN NEWS/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Anxiety about the future is spreading within Japan's ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), as the approval rating for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's Cabinet has continued to drop in opinion polls conducted by various media outlets, hitting record lows since the inauguration of the second Abe Cabinet.

The approval rating for the LDP, which had remained steady until the latest polls, also dropped, prompting several LDP members to voice concerns over the next House of Representatives election.

Mr Abe aims to shift the tide by reshuffling the Cabinet and the executive posts of the LDP, but some are sceptical about this, with one member saying: "We can't expect a rebound just by conducting personnel changes."

In a Yomiuri Shimbun opinion poll conducted nationwide from Friday to Sunday (July 7 to 9), the Cabinet's approval rating declined significantly to 36 per cent, down 13 percentage points from the previous survey, and 25 percentage points from the one before that.

Learning of the new ratings, LDP general council chairman Hiroyuki Hosoda stressed to reporters in Matsue on Monday that the decline will not necessarily continue.

"If we conduct reliable diplomatic and economic policies, we will once again receive high approval ratings," said Mr Hosoda, who is also head of the LDP faction from which Mr Abe comes.

However, an experienced LDP lawmaker was less optimistic. "The situation is quite serious, and I can feel the change in mood. The Prime Minister's unifying power is waning for sure," the lawmaker said.

What shocked the LDP was the fact that its party approval rating fell by 10 percentage points from the previous poll to 31 per cent and hit its lowest level since the launch of the second Abe Cabinet.

Some members voiced concern for the next national election, with a mid-ranking LDP member saying: "There is no end to criticism of Abe from voters in my constituency. We are losing the hearts of the people."

To get back on his feet, Mr Abe plans to conduct a personnel reshuffle on Aug 3.

There are voices calling for him to utilise a wide range of talents within the LDP, with a junior lawmaker saying: "We should promote a party united as one to the public."

Ms Seiko Noda, former chairman of the LDP general council, said: "Only Abe's line of policy has been highlighted, but there are members within the party who are distancing themselves from the administration to seek balance."

She stressed the need to give Cabinet posts or executive party posts to lawmakers who keep a distance from the Prime Minister.

Mr Shigeru Ishiba, former minister in charge of regional revitalisation, said: "This is not a situation that can be dealt with through superficial measures such as a Cabinet reshuffle."

On Sunday, Mr Abe expressed anew his aim to submit the LDP's constitutional revision Bill to an extraordinary Diet session to be convened this autumn. However, there are elements of the schedule envisioned by Mr Abe that are unclear.

A senior LDP official said: "If we lose our composure over the decline in approval ratings and delay constitutional amendments, it will instead result in us failing to meet the people's expectations."

In contrast, a former Cabinet member said: "These approval ratings reflect the will of the people, who do not want constitutional amendment under the Abe administration."