TOKYO Support for Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso's cabinet is hovering below 20 percent, a nationwide poll showed on Sunday, as the premier struggles to get measures to help the economy past a divided parliament before calling elections his party looks set to lose.
Kyodo News said the approval rating for the cabinet had fallen to 19.2 percent in a telephone survey conducted this weekend, down 6.3 points from December, while the disapproval rating came in at 70.2 percent, up 8.9 points from last month.
Saddled with a deepening recession and plagued by an emboldened opposition that already controls the upper house of parliament, Aso appears to be leading the long-ruling Liberal Democrat Party to defeat in lower house elections due this year.
Kyodo reported that 46.4 percent of respondents said they would prefer Ichiro Ozawa, head of the main opposition Democratic Party of Japan, as prime minister, more than double the 22.1 percent who backed Aso for the job.
In addition, 51.4 percent said they would prefer a government led by the DPJ, compared with only 30.5 percent who wanted Aso's LDP.
Aso, 68, has effectively ruled out calling an election until parliament passes a supplementary budget for the year to the end of March and the full budget for fiscal 2009/10.
The government hopes to get lower house approval as early as Tuesday for the extra budget, which includes funding for 2 trillion yen ($22 billion) in payouts to individuals that the opposition says is pork-barrel spending aimed at the election.
Kyodo reported that 70.5 percent of respondents opposed the payout plan, up 12.4 points, while only 23.7 percent supported it, down 7.7 points.
Many respondents said the money should instead be used for pensions, medical services and other social security spending.
DISSOLUTION BY DISCUSSION
Ozawa blasted the proposed payouts again on Sunday as useless for stimulating the economy, a stance economists as well as many in the LDP share, but said his party would take a positive approach to the extra budget if Aso agreed to drop the payout plan.
Aso has repeatedly said he has no intention of giving up the plan, which was adopted at the urging of the LDP's junior coalition partner, the small New Komeito party.
Former financial services minister Yoshimi Watanabe has said he would leave the LDP if the ruling bloc goes ahead with the payout plan, although political experts said few, if any, other ruling party lawmakers were likely to follow suit for now.
Asked if he could cooperate with such LDP rebels, Ozawa, 66, a former LDP heavyweight who himself bolted the party in 1993 and helped briefly topple it from power, said they would have to follow their words with action first.
"First, they must leave the party and they must also share our political ideas and stance," he told NHK public TV.
But he said any future coalition centered on the Democrats would be with his current allies, the small Social Democratic Party and conservative New People's Party, whose backing is needed to maintain opposition control of the upper house.
Ozawa also said he would be willing to enter talks on helping to enact the 2009/10 budget before the end of the fiscal year if Aso agreed to call an early snap poll.
"We've insisted that the people's will should be sought at an early stage so it would be fine to enter talks on the premise that the lower house would be dissolved," he said.
But he added: "I don't think the Aso administration will last that long."