Olympics bump in public support yet to materialise for Japan PM Suga: Nikkei poll

An anti-Olympic activist holds up a portrait of Japan PM Yoshihide Suga (left) during a march in Tokyo, on July 16, 2021. PHOTO: REUTERS

TOKYO - The boost in public support that Japan's Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga is hoping the Olympic Games will bring has yet to materialise.

A new survey released on Sunday (July 25), conducted jointly by the Nikkei daily and TV Tokyo from Friday to Sunday, instead showed his cabinet's approval plunging to new depths. This casts a pall on Mr Suga's political fortunes, as he must call a general election by October.

The survey is significant as it is the first opinion poll to be done since the opening of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.

But rather than showing a plateau in support or even an uptick in approval given the feel-good factor of the Games, the survey results were aligned with those held by other media outlets earlier this month in the controversial run-up to the sporting extravaganza.

The Nikkei-TV Tokyo poll had Cabinet support at 34 per cent - down nine percentage points from last month.

That level of support is even lower than former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's worst showing of 38 per cent at the height of a series of cronyism scandals, noted the Nikkei.

The last time such levels were seen was in November 2012, when the now-defunct Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) was in government. The DPJ would cede power to the Liberal Democratic Party a month later.

It is still unclear if Japan's gold rush at the Games - among them skateboarder Yuto Horigome, 22, who took the inaugural gold for the sport on home soil, and siblings Hifumi, 23, and Uta Abe, 21, who won the gold in judo on the same day - will do anything to lift spirits and in turn boost support for Mr Suga.

Sophia University political scientist Koichi Nakano told The Straits Times that the plunging support is indicative of wider displeasure that might be more deeply-rooted than any ephemeral feel-good effect brought by the Games.

This is largely due to the surge in Covid-19, with Japan in the throes of a fifth wave driven by the more contagious Delta variant of the coronavirus, as the national vaccination campaign hits a major speed bump with a supply shortage.

Tokyo recorded 1,429 fresh cases on Monday, the seventh day in a row the capital has logged more than 1,000 cases. This figure is also nearly double that of the number of cases last Monday, and set a fresh record for a Monday.

Japanese media tend to use week-on-week comparisons rather than day-on-day as this is more reliable, given delays in case reporting while laboratory closures on weekends and public holidays may lead to fewer tests.

The surge is also evident in the other prefectures that form the Greater Tokyo region. Chiba, to the east, set a new all-time high of 509 cases on Monday, while there were 540 cases in Kanagawa to the south and 449 in Saitama to the north.

The Greater Tokyo region alone accounted for about 60 per cent of the 4,692 cases recorded nationwide on Monday.

Japan meanwhile began taking applications for paper-only vaccine passports on Monday , accepted in five countries. Yet the analogue format and Japan's reluctance to ease quarantine requirements even for returnees have been another bugbear.

Dr Nakano said that the public was clearly losing patience to the point of perceiving the government as having lost the plot in its Covid-19 battle. This is being exacerbated by the Olympic Games.

"This is akin to a situation where a father is a heavy smoker and you're already living with secondhand smoke as a result, and yet he's telling you not to smoke," he said. "It sounds very irrational, even hypocritical."

The frequent emergency declarations have also resulted in them losing effect. Tokyo is in the midst of its fourth state of emergency - and the third this year alone.

"It's already been six months consigned to this limbo and people are really sick and tired. The irony is that the more serious and conformist you are (to the government's measures), the more you suffer," he said.

"Maybe if the Olympics end successfully people will feel thankful that Suga's strategy was right. But there is still a big question mark over whether his strategy is on target and it's premature for anyone to start celebrating his leadership."

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