TOKYO, Japan - On Monday, as polls revealed that suspected cronyism scandals have pushed Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s support to record lows, his political crisis deepened.
What made matters worse for the conservative premier was that the finance ministry’s top bureaucrat come under fire after a weekly magazine reported he had sexually harassed several female journalists.
While the bureaucrat in question, Administrative Vice Finance Minister Junichi Fukuda, denied the accusations and said he would file a lawsuit against the publisher of the Shincho magazine, it further sunk the Japanese PM’s support.
Reports pointed out that Abe’s sliding ratings raise doubts about whether he can win a third three-year term as ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) leader in a September vote or whether he might resign before the party vote.
Abe needs to win this vote to stay in office.
In December 2012, Abe surged back to power for a second term as prime minister, promising to reboot a stale economy and bolster Japan’s defenses.
Now speculation is rife that Abe could call a snap general election as he did last October when his ratings were in a similar slump.
On Sunday, broadcaster Nippon TV released findings of a survey which showed Abe’s support had sunk to 26.7 percent - which was the lowest since he took office in December 2012.
On Monday, an Asahi newspaper poll put his support at 31 percent.
It revealed that two-thirds of voters did not trust Abe’s explanations that he was not involved in the cronyism scandals.
In his defense, Abe has denied that he had intervened to ensure preferential treatment for the educational institution Kake Gakuen, run by his friend Kotaro Kake, to set up a veterinary school.
The Prime Minister has also repeatedly denied that he or his wife intervened in a heavily discounted sale of state-owned land to another school operator, Moritomo Gakuen tied to his wife.
This week, Abe is set to hold a summit with U.S. President Donald Trump, where the difficult topics of North Korea’s nuclear and missile threats and trade will reportedly be on the agenda.
In an interview published by the online edition of the weekly magazine Aera, former premier Junichiro Koizumi, a one-time Abe mentor and a critic of Abe’s support for nuclear power after the 2011 Fukushima accident, said, “The situation is getting dangerous. Won’t Mr Abe resign around the time parliament’s session ends?”
Koizumi added that if Abe hung on, it could hurt LDP candidates in an upper house election next year.
The ratings and survey have been released two days after crowds of over 50,000 protesters demonstrated near the parliament, holding signs saying “Abe is Over” and chanting “Abe quit!”
However, many investors still believe that Abe can survive, as he did last year.
Soichiro Monji, chief strategist at Daiwa SB Investments said, “If Abe will have to leave, that would be a big deal but I don’t see that happening yet.”