Wednesday, 21 Oct 2020

Japan PM Yoshihide Suga slips in poll amid dispute over academics

TOKYO (BLOOMBERG) – New Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has seen his support rate take its first tumble since assuming office a month ago, over criticism he injected politics into a decision to reject nominees for an academic advisory council.

A poll conducted by public broadcaster NHK between Oct 9-11 found support for Suga’s cabinet had fallen by 7 percentage points to 55 per cent compared with the previous month. About 47 per cent of respondents said his decision on the advisory board was unacceptable and many also faulted him over border openings that they believe were done too quickly and could spread the coronavirus.

Suga’s government has faced a barrage of questions over his decision to reject six of 105 nominees to the Science Council of Japan, a government-funded academic body that makes policy recommendations.

Previous premiers had rubber-stamped nominations for the council, established in 1949, and critics have said Suga’s move appeared to be aimed at excluding critics of government policy.

Suga’s government has denied that politics factored into its decision.

Farmer’s son Suga was installed as prime minister in September, taking over from Shinzo Abe in Japan’s first change of leadership in almost eight years.

Suga came into power with some of the highest support rates on record for a new Japanese prime minister, with voters backing his pledges of continuity for managing a virus-hit economy.

While the switchover took place without a general election, Suga initially attracted public approval for a pragmatic policy agenda including a pledge to reduce mobile phone bills.

Market players have been reassured by his pledge to carry on the ultra-easy monetary policies of his predecessor, known as “Abenomics.”

Suga was elected by the long-ruling Liberal Democratic Party to serve out the final year of Abe’s term as party leader after he resigned over health concerns.

Suga has repeatedly said the public doesn’t want a general election during the pandemic, and that his priorities are to contain the coronavirus and its economic fallout.

No election need be held until September next year, and support for the main opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan remains in single figures.

Nevertheless, any rapid fall-off in his support could prompt Suga to bring forward the election to improve his chances of re-election to a full three-year term as party leader next autumn.

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