Japan PM ratings slide, lower house to pass budget

TOKYO Mon Nov 15, 2010 10:20pm EST

Japan's Prime Minister Naoto Kan (L) waits for Chile's President Sebastian Pinera before their meeting on the sidelines of the APEC Summit in Yokohama November 14, 2010. REUTERS/Vivek Prakash

Japan's Prime Minister Naoto Kan (L) waits for Chile's President Sebastian Pinera before their meeting on the sidelines of the APEC Summit in Yokohama November 14, 2010.

Credit: Reuters/Vivek Prakash

TOKYO (Reuters) - Support for Japan's government has dropped to 27 percent, the lowest since Prime Minister Naoto Kan took office in June, with voters unhappy over his handling of rows with China and Russia, a survey showed on Tuesday.

The continued slide in support for Japan's fifth leader in three years is complicating efforts to enact an $53 billion extra budget to shore up the economy.

Kan's ratings have also been eroded by a funding scandal dogging ruling party powerbroker Ichiro Ozawa, who faces indictment over the affair. Ozawa has denied any wrongdoing.

Still, 60 percent of respondents in the Asahi newspaper's survey said there was no need for a snap election.

"Recent polls showed support ratings have fallen below 30 percent, which some call a danger zone, but I don't think this will force him to resign," said Mikitaka Masuyama, professor at the National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies.

Past prime ministers have quit when their ratings nosedived but the public appears fed up with the revolving-door leadership.

Tokyo's relations with Beijing have chilled since September when Japan detained the captain of a Chinese fishing boat that collided with two of its patrol vessels off disputed islands.

The prime minister has been under fire domestically for seeming to cave in to Beijing's demands to free the skipper.

Adding to Kan's headaches, this month's visit by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev to another disputed island, north of Japan, also ignited long-simmering tensions.

The Asahi newspaper's poll showed 73 percent of respondents were not satisfied with Kan's handling of the territorial dispute over the islets with Russia, while 77 percent said they were unhappy with the Kan government's diplomacy in general.

BUDGET DELAY CONCERNS

The $53 billion extra budget for the year to March is expected to pass in the powerful lower house on Tuesday.

Budget bills become law within 30 days of approval by the lower house even if rejected by the upper house.

Opposition parties, which control the less powerful upper chamber, could delay the process but would risk public ire if they drag things out too long.

The government hopes the extra budget will ease the pain from the yen's rise and deflation. It is intended to support job seekers and families with children, while promoting subsidies for home renovations and electronics that improve energy efficiency.

Japan's economic growth accelerated in the third quarter but analysts say a long-anticipated slowdown is already under way.

On Monday, the lower house voted down no-confidence motions against two of Kan's key cabinet ministers over the handling of the territorial row with China and the leakage of a video of the collision between the Chinese trawler and Japanese patrol boats.

Those cabinet members, including Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshito Sengoku, the de facto No.2 in Kan's cabinet, could still face a non-binding but embarrassing censure motion in the upper house, a move that could hurt Kan's ability to govern.

"The dilemma for opposition parties is that if they push too hard (to delay the budget process), the public may turn away. But unless they push, they cannot get back to power," the National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies' Masuyama said.

(Editing by Linda Sieg and Alex Richardson)

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