Japan Cabinet support leaps as PM Abe heads for exit

TOKYO (BLOOMBERG) – Support for Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Cabinet soared after he announced his resignation and his right-hand man Yoshihide Suga emerged last week as the most likely candidate to replace him, according to two polls published Monday (Sept 7).

Cabinet support rose 27 percentage points to 62.4 per cent in a survey carried out by news network JNN, and by 15 percentage points to 52 per cent in a poll by the Yomiuri newspaper.

The polls signal public support for Abe’s overall record-setting run as premier, and an acceptance of the handover to Suga, who is expected to take over in mid-September and continue Abe’s policies, including monetary easing.

While the popularity of Abe’s cabinet had been sagging for months amid a series of scandals and criticism of its handling of the pandemic, 74 per cent of respondents said they had a positive overall view of his nearly eight-year tenure, while 24 per cent said they saw it negatively.

Abe said late last month that because of a chronic digestive ailment he would step down once his ruling Liberal Democratic Party picks a successor.

Suga has already received enough support from the powerful factions in the party to win the race set for Sept 14 over the two other declared contenders – former Defence Minister Shigeru Ishiba and former Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida.

The LDP leader is virtually guaranteed to become premier, thanks to the party’s majority in parliament.

The body is expected to vote on a new prime minister on Sept 16.

Asked who would make the most appropriate successor to Abe, 48 per cent of respondents to the JNN poll picked Suga, putting him far ahead of his nearest rival, Ishiba, on 27 per cent.

The surge in support could prompt the new premier to call a general election soon after taking office.

LDP General Affairs Chairman Shunichi Suzuki told a BS TV Tokyo program Sunday that an early election was a possibility.

Another option would be to wait about a year until the new prime minister has served out the remainder of Abe’s term as party leader, Suzuki said.

An election must be held before October 2021 and Suga has often appeared negative about the idea of holding a vote at this stage of the pandemic.

The Yomiuri poll found 55 per cent of respondents didn’t see a need for an election until the lower house term expires in a year.

Only 16 per cent said it should be held before the end of 2020.

“It depends on the situation,” Suga told Fuji TV Sept 3 when asked about the prospects for a snap poll.

“We’re in the middle of the coronavirus crisis. The people of this country want us to deal with it properly.”

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