Support for Japan PM Abe holds up despite ally's resignation over corruption scandal

Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at his official residence in Tokyo, Japan, on Jan 28, 2016.
Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at his official residence in Tokyo, Japan, on Jan 28, 2016. PHOTO: REUTERS

TOKYO (Bloomberg) - Public support for Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is holding up despite the resignation last week of a key Cabinet ally over a graft scandal.

Three media polls conducted over the weekend show the approval rating of Abe's Cabinet improved from December:

* Yomiuri: 56 per cent; up 2 percentage points

* Mainichi: 51 per cent; up 8 points

* Kyodo: 54 per cent; up 4 points

The lack of public anger over tabloid claims that former Economy Minister Akira Amari took cash from a construction company in return for political favours may help the ruling coalition's push to rejuvenate a tepid economy ahead of summer elections.

The scandal has already delayed debate on the Budget for the fiscal year starting April.

Mr Abe initially urged Mr Amari, a key engineer of his economic policies who led negotiations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership regional trade deal, to stay on in his job after a weekly magazine published the allegations that Mr Amari and his staff took bribes from a construction company.

At a press conference on Thursday, Mr Amari denied pocketing any money before tearfully announcing his resignation, saying he could not allow the fuss over the issue to hamper Mr Abe's economic programme.

Mr Abe quickly moved to appoint Mr Nobuteru Ishihara, son of the fiery former Tokyo governor Shintaro Ishihara, as a replacement for Mr Amari. Fifty per cent of respondents to the Mainichi newspaper said they did not approve of the choice, while 31 per cent said they did.

The Mainichi found support for Mr Abe among women, until now markedly less likely than men to approve of Mr Abe, rose by 9 percentage points. Support among men rose by 5 points.