Ja­pan's scan­dals, shaky econ­omy erode Abe's sup­port as polls loom

The Pak Banker - - MARKETS/SPORTS -

Voter sup­port for Ja­panese Prime Min­is­ter Shinzo Abe slipped to below 50 per­cent in a week­end opin­ion poll, send­ing a warn­ing sig­nal to the govern­ment with an elec­tion less than six months away. Over­all sup­port for Abe's cab­i­net slipped to 46.7 per­cent, down 7 points from late Jan­uary and the low­est rat­ing in six months, ac­cord­ing to a sur­vey con­ducted by Ky­odo news agency. Dis­ap­proval rose 3.6 points to 38.9 per­cent and 77.7 per­cent of the re­spon­dents said they felt the ad­min­is­tra­tion was "grow­ing slack."

Abe took of­fice at the end of 2012 and has en­joyed un­usual longevity for a Ja­panese prime min­is­ter. He has rid­den out a se­ries of scan­dals that en­snared sev- eral cab­i­net min­is­ters, in­clud­ing last month's res­ig­na­tion of Econ­omy Min­is­ter Akira Amari -- a close con­fi­dante and an ar­chi­tect of Abe­nomics -- over a money scan­dal. But the scan­dals, gaffes and now doubts about eco­nomic pol­icy -- in­clud­ing the Bank of Ja­pan's (BOJ) de­ci­sion last month to im­ple­ment neg­a­tive in­ter­est rates -- is start­ing to take a toll be­fore July's elec­tion for the Up­per House of par­lia­ment.

"The de­ci­sion for Amari to quit was made promptly and seemed al­most clear cut, so that didn't harm rat­ings so much," said At­suo Ito, a com­men­ta­tor who has writ­ten books on the math­e­mat­ics of pol­i­tics. "But if a lot of other things pile up, it's in­evitable that vot­ers get the im­pres­sion the ad­min­is­tra­tion is grow­ing sloppy -- and I think that im­pres­sion is strength- en­ing." In the three weeks since Amari re­signed, a law­maker from Abe's rul­ing Lib­eral Demo­cratic Party (LDP) quit af­ter rev­e­la­tions of an ex­tra­mar­i­tal af­fair and Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Min­is­ter Sanae Takaichi warned the govern­ment could or­der broad­cast­ers to sus­pend op­er­a­tions if it felt they were bi­ased, rais­ing con­cerns about press free­dom.

An ad­di­tional blow was the re­lease of data last week show­ing Ja­pan's econ­omy shrank more than ex­pected in the fi­nal quar­ter of last year as con­sumer spend­ing and ex­ports slumped.

The BOJ's de­ci­sion rat­tled re­spon­dents in the sur­vey, with 82.2 per­cent ex­press­ing un­hap­pi­ness about it, which Ito said should re­ally be taken as a mea­sure of feel­ings about Abe­nomics as a whole.

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