Japan PM Abe's support rate stuck near danger zone

TOKYO Mon Jun 25, 2007 6:16am EDT

Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe attends a ceremony to mark the anniversary of a bloody World War Two battle at the Peace Memorial Park in Itoman on the southern Japanese island of Okinawa June 23, 2007. REUTERS/Kyodo

Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe attends a ceremony to mark the anniversary of a bloody World War Two battle at the Peace Memorial Park in Itoman on the southern Japanese island of Okinawa June 23, 2007.

Credit: Reuters/Kyodo

TOKYO (Reuters) - Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's support remains stuck at slightly above 30 percent, which many analysts consider a crisis level, a survey showed on Monday, just over a month before an upper house election.

The poll published by financial daily Nikkei found support for Abe's cabinet at 36 percent, down 5 percentage points from May and the lowest figure recorded in the Nikkei poll since Abe took office last September.

The result is in line with other recent public opinion surveys. A poll by Kyodo news agency released on Sunday showed Abe's support at 33.5 percent, while a Jiji news agency survey earlier this month found it even lower at 28.8 percent.

Abe, who faces his first major electoral test in a July 29 upper house poll, is trying to soothe voter outrage over mismanaged pension records, but the Nikkei said its survey showed he has failed to do so.

Disapproval of Abe's cabinet stood at 52 percent, up 8 points from May, according to the telephone survey conducted from Friday to Sunday among 898 voters, the Nikkei said.

The government has come under fire after revelations that no proper record was kept of millions of pension premium payments, meaning some retirees could be short-changed.

Abe will return 2.34 million yen ($18,890) of his summer bonus of 5.36 million yen to take responsibility for the pensions issue, chief cabinet secretary Yasuhisa Shiozaki told a news conference.

"As head of the government, the prime minister has decided to do this to take responsibility for the pension issue," Shiozaki said, adding that he and Health Minister Hakuo Yanagisawa will also return 940,000 yen of their bonuses.

Abe later told reporters: "Japanese citizens are feeling very angry about how this has been handled, so I felt that I needed to take responsibility."

Abe's recent low poll numbers have not been seen for a prime minister since the gaffe-prone Yoshiro Mori, who was forced to step down in April 2001.

The ruling Liberal Democratic Party pressured Mori to resign and replaced him with the maverick Junichiro Koizumi in a bid to avoid a bashing in an upper house election that year.

Abe will not automatically have to resign if his ruling coalition loses its majority in the upper house, and it could control the chamber by wooing independents or members of tiny parties if it falls short of majority by a few seats.

But a major defeat would mean the ruling bloc would be unable to enact legislation, which must be approved by both houses of parliament, threatening political paralysis and prompting calls for Abe to resign or even call a snap lower house election.

(Additional reporting by Elaine Lies)

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