June 19, 2017 4:38 am JST

Abe's approval rating plunges amid lingering school scandal

Cabinet faces biggest opinion poll setback since 2015

Support for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's government has fallen below 50%.

TOKYO -- Support for Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's government has dropped below 50% for the first time in more than a year as respondents expressed dissatisfaction with his response to allegations of preferential treatment toward a conservative educator.

The cabinet's approval rating plunged to 49% in a weekend poll by Nikkei Inc. and TV Tokyo, down 7 percentage points from May and 11 points compared with April. The government's disapproval rating climbed 6 points to 42% -- the highest since October 2015.

This marks the Abe cabinet's most serious setback in public opinion since that year, when legislation expanding the armed forces' remit ignited a public debate on Japan's commitment to peace.

Now, the prime minister is facing allegations of favoritism over plans to establish a veterinary school in a government-designated special zone for deregulation. The prospective school operator, Kake Educational Institution, is headed by a friend of Abe's.

The government insists that all of the proper procedures were followed in approving the new school. But a purported memo describing the project as in line with "the prime minister's wishes" -- a document whose credibility the government had questioned -- has been found at the ministry of education after a second internal investigation.

The ruling coalition's move to cut short the upper house debate on anti-conspiracy legislation also seems to have contributed to the drop in support. Among other things, the recently enacted law makes it a crime to plot terrorist attacks. Nearly half, or 47%, of respondents support the law, which has raised concerns among civil liberties groups, while 36% are opposed.

The cabinet's approval rating fell among both men and women. Only 24% of respondents unaffiliated with any political party expressed support for the government, down 5 points from the previous survey.

Among respondents in their 50s and those age 70 and older, support for Abe's government fell below the disapproval rating in the latest poll.

Abe's ruling Liberal Democratic Party continued to enjoy the highest approval rating, but its position slipped 4 points to 40%. The main opposition Democratic Party remained stuck at 8%. Nearly a third, or 32%, of respondents described themselves as independents, up 1 point from the previous survey. 

The poll was conducted by telephone Friday to Sunday among a random selection of people age 18 and older. It drew responses from 46.2% of the people contacted.

(Nikkei)

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