Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will face a tough time reaching agreement with his own party on contentious policies if his public support rates keep falling, one of his cabinet ministers said in an interview Tuesday.
Doubts about Abe's commitment to reform have eroded his popularity a little more than two months after the 52-year-old succeeded Junichiro Koizumi in the nation's top job, several public opinion polls published Tuesday showed.
Support for Abe's government fell 11 percentage points to 48 percent in a nationwide telephone poll of some 1,000 voters by public broadcaster NHK, and other polls showed similar declines.
"When negotiations with the ruling party are difficult, there are many policies that can be implemented with the support of the public. That was the case for the Koizumi administration," said Sanae Takaichi, a cabinet minister with a plethora of portfolios including gender equality, innovation policy and food safety.
"In that sense, it is a fact that a falling support rate makes it difficult to reach agreement on various issues. All we can do is stick to our guns and do things one by one," Sanae said in an interview.
Abe's popularity has slipped following his decision to take back into his ruling party 11 lawmakers who were expelled last year for opposing privatization of Japan's sprawling postal system, the pet project of his predecessor Junichiro Koizumi.
Koizumi had kicked out the "postal rebels" and then called a snap election, making the issue the key focus of a lower house poll held in September last year.
He also sent "assassin" candidates one of whom was Takaichi to run against the "rebels" in their home districts and the LDP won a massive victory at the polls.
The ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) last week let the lawmakers back after Abe made them submit written pledges to back postal privatization and never again to defy the party.
Better PR work needed
Takaichi, 45, said Abe's decision could be hard for many voters to understand, but added his intent was to push reform by bringing supporters of his policies back to the LDP.
"I realize there are some who are doubting the very significance of last year's election," she said. "But since the prime minister made an overall decision, all we can do is implement policies by drawing on the strength of many people."
Takaichi also said a better PR campaign was needed to convey Abe's real intentions on reform to the public.
"Prime Minister Abe himself is giving those of us in the cabinet directives about difficult issues. But it seems that that is not being conveyed enough to the citizens," she said.
Some analysts and politicians say the LDP wanted the 11 lawmakers back because most of them have strong support bases which the party needs ahead of an upper house election next July.
Others say the decision reflects a shift in priorities from Koizumi's economic reforms aimed at reducing government's role in the economy to security matters such as revising Japan's pacifist constitution and social issues like education reform.
(China Daily December 13, 2006)