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Odds of victory rise for Japan's opposition party

Publication Date : 24-10-2012


A rapid decline in support for Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda and his ruling party is boosting the chances of opposition leader Shinzo Abe becoming Japan's next prime minister.

The resignation yesterday of Justice Minister Keishu Tanaka, 74, for alleged ties to organised crime, barely three weeks after joining the Cabinet, was the latest blow to the beleaguered Noda.

The latest opinion poll by the influential Asahi Shimbun daily showed public approval for the Noda administration at a record low of 18 per cent, from 23 per cent after a Cabinet reshuffle on October 1.

Meanwhile, support for his ruling Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) dipped by three percentage points to 11 per cent.

In contrast, public backing for Abe's Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) has soared to 26 per cent from 21 per cent, putting victory well within the party's reach if a general election were to be held soon.

If the LDP clinches a majority in the Lower House, then Abe, who was premier for a year from September 2006, is virtually assured of another stab as prime minister.

DPJ lawmakers are not eager for early elections as their party looks set for a major defeat.

Using the opposition's control of the Upper House to thwart government legislative moves, Abe is pressing Noda to call early elections in exchange for cooperation in passing several key Bills, including one authorising the government to issue new national bonds to finance reconstruction.

Tanaka's untimely resignation gives the opposition added ammunition to grill the Prime Minister in Parliament for picking him. Although Tanaka cited ill health as his reason for quitting, his real undoing is his past association with organised crime.

Leaping to Noda's defence, the government spokesman, Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura, told reporters: "Nothing we can do about poor health. The Prime Minister cannot be blamed."

But political analysts say early polls are inevitable, given the dire political straits Noda has waded into. Since September 2007, when Abe resigned, Japan has changed prime ministers every year. Whether Abe, a nationalist hawk, will do a better job than Noda is a good question.

Abe's late grandfather Nobusuke Kishi was a prime minister and his father Shintaro Abe a foreign minister. But Abe's previous stint as prime minister left much to be desired.

Touted as the nation's youngest post-war prime minister, the then 52-year-old came to the office with dreams of turning Japan into a "beautiful country", a vaguely worded vision that baffled most Japanese. He prided himself on warming icy relations with China by making Beijing his first diplomatic port of call after becoming premier, rather than Washington.

But his tenure is best remembered for verbal gaffes, the resignations of several ministers and the wide-scale mismanagement of the state pension system.

Despite a devastating defeat by the DPJ in the July 2007 Upper House elections, Abe refused to step down to take the blame. Two months later, he suddenly threw in the towel, citing an inflammatory bowel disease which causes constant diarrhoea.

But in September this year, his bowel ailment was reportedly cured and, encouraged by the dearth of good candidates, Abe decided to run again for LDP president.

China and South Korea, currently embroiled in bitter territorial rows with Japan, are likely to be nervous about Abe becoming premier as he pledged to be tough towards both countries during campaigning.


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