November 18, 2019 / 4:42 AM / 23 days ago

Japanese prime minister's approval rating wilts amid accusations of party funding

TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s approval rating has taken a hit in the past month, a media poll shows, amid opposition accusations that his office may have violated political spending laws.

FILE PHOTO: Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe speaks attends the conference Communication Connecting Europe and Asia, in Brussels, Belgium September 27, 2019. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir/File Photo

Allegations that his political office sponsored a party for supporters are the latest in a string of gift-giving scandals that have brought down politicians across Japan in recent months, eroding public sentiment.

A monthly Yomiuri Shimbun poll conducted late last week showed an approval rating of 49% for Abe’s cabinet, down 6 points from the October poll, and falling below 50% for the first time since February.

The disapproval rating rose to 36% from 34% last month, with 45% of respondents citing “lack of trust in the prime minister” over the party-funding allegations.

Abe on Monday confirmed that 800 guests attended the dinner reception at a five-star hotel in central Tokyo in April, which he and his wife attended, adding that attendees each paid a 5,000 yen ($46) admission fee.

“Neither my office nor the party’s supporters organization contributed funding towards admission for guests or myself at the dinner event,” Abe told reporters on Monday, adding that his office held no record of the event.

Opposition parties say that the admission price was much lower than that of other receptions held at the Hotel New Otani, which start at 11,000 yen per head, according to the hotel’s website. They say if Abe subsidized the admission, it may violate the Political Offices Election Law and Political Funds Control Law.

“Abe has said that his office sponsored the reception, so it’s mandatory that it keeps records of the event for bookkeeping purposes,” Jun Azumi, deputy secretary-general of the center-left Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, told reporters. “The fact that these records do not exist shows that his office had not intention to keep such records, that his office doesn’t acknowledge the event. This is an issue.”

Politicians are strictly forbidden to give anything to constituents that even hints at being a gift. The rule is so strict that one cabinet minister quit in 2014 after distributing paper fans during the summer.

Last month, two government officials separately resigned over accusations that they had given fruit and vegetables to constituents as gifts.

Reporting by Naomi Tajitsu. Editing by Gerry Doyle

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