(Reuters) - Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s cabinet was struck a fresh blow by the suicide of his scandal-plagued farm minister on Monday, just as his support ratings sank to their lowest level since he took office in September.
- Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) elected 52-year-old Abe as party leader and thus prime minister last September, hoping that his relative youth and dapper style would buoy support ahead of the upper house elections in July. Abe, Japan’s youngest premier since World War Two, had built a support base by taking a hard line on Japanese citizens kidnapped by North Korea in the 1970s and 1980s.
- Abe gained kudos for visiting China and South Korea shortly after taking office, in a largely successful bid to patch up ties frayed by his predecessor Junichiro Koizumi’s visits to a war shrine seen by many in Asia as a symbol of Japan’s past militarism.
- But Abe’s popularity later sagged after a series of gaffes and funding scandals among his cabinet, leading to the resignation of a cabinet minister and the government’s top adviser on tax reform. His health minister came under fire for referring to women as “birth-giving machines” in a speech to business executives.
- The LDP and its junior coalition partner, the New Komeito, need to win 64 of the 121 seats up for grabs in the July election in order to maintain a majority in the 242-seat upper house. Two newspaper polls published on Monday put Abe’s support rate at 32 percent and 41 percent respectively.
- Abe’s cabinet has named revision of Japan’s pacifist constitution as a top priority, but media polls show voters are more concerned about pension reform, particularly after the government was revealed to have mislaid details of millions of pension premium payments. The new pension furore has caused Abe’s support rate to slide to its lowest level since he took office.
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