TOKYO (AFP) - Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's approval rating has fallen sharply, an opinion poll showed on Monday (March 20), as scandals erode public confidence in a government now in its fifth year.
Mr Abe took power in December 2012 on the back of widespread frustration with the previous administration's handling of the 2011 nuclear disaster and perceived mismanagement of ties with key ally, the United States.
He vowed to revive the world's third-largest economy by ending years of on-and-off deflation and pursue his pet project of amending Japan's post-war pacificist Constitution that bans it from use of force except in the strictest sense of self-defence.
But for weeks now, he has been forced to deny connections with a nationalistic school operator whose purchase of state land to build a primary school at a huge discount has drawn allegations of shady dealings.
Mr Abe has said he had no role in the transaction and has more than once vowed to resign if any connection is found.
But new twists to the scandal, which has also engulfed his Defence Minister, keep emerging, ensuring it remains on newspaper front pages.
The latest survey by the top-selling Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper shows approval for Mr Abe's Cabinet has dropped by 10 percentage points to 56 per cent.
Though that still remains high, the daily said it marked the biggest monthly fall since he took office. Other recent polls have also shown declines.
Some 64 per cent of the more than 1,000 respondents to the Yomiuri survey, conducted over the weekend, said they were not convinced by Mr Abe's denials.
Mr Yasunori Kagoike, the school operator, last week claimed he received a one million yen (S$12,392) donation from Abe for the primary school, plans for which now have been put on ice.
Mr Abe's wife, Akie, had been named honorary principal of the school but stepped down last month as the land scandal swirled.
Mr Abe has said neither he nor his wife made any donation and analysts quoted in local media said that even if they had, it was not illegal. But if proven, it could hurt his political standing as his credibility would be called into question.
The issue could come to a head on Thursday when Mr Kagoike, who has gained notoriety for operating an Osaka kindergarten that inculcates pupils with ultra-nationalist views, will be questioned under oath in Parliament.
The scandal has also drawn in Mr Abe's hawkish Defence Minister, Ms Tomomi Inada, who was forced to apologise to lawmakers after it emerged that she had represented Mr Kagoike in court more than a decade ago after saying a day earlier that she had not.
She is also taking flak in Parliament over a parallel scandal related to Japan's peace-keeping unit in South Sudan that has raised concerns about civilian control of the military.