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Abe Cabinet support rate plummets 12 points to 33% amid Moritomo scandal

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, left, and Finance Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso are seen during a House of Councillors Budget Committee meeting on March 14, 2018. (Mainichi)

Public support for the Cabinet of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has plummeted 12 points to 33 percent in less than a month, according to a nationwide Mainichi Shimbun poll conducted on March 17 and 18.

Furthermore, 47 percent of respondents said they did not support the Cabinet, a 15-point jump from the Mainichi's previous survey conducted on Feb. 24-25. The most recent result is the first time since September 2017 -- just before the House of Representatives was dissolved for an October general election -- that the ratio of those who don't support the Cabinet has topped the ratio of those that do. The support rate is also at its lowest since last September, when the Mainichi added mobile phone queries to its survey pool.

Meanwhile, 68 percent of pollees said that Prime Minister Abe "has a responsibility" for the Finance Ministry's doctoring of documents pertaining to the heavily discounted sale of government land to nationalist school operator Moritomo Gakuen, which had ties to Abe's wife Akie. Just 20 percent of respondents said the prime minister "has no responsibility" for the affair.

This and the sudden drop in public support for the Cabinet suggest Abe's management of the administration has some very tough days ahead.

Support for the Abe Cabinet among backers of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) was high at 74 percent. However, just 15 percent of independents said they favored the Cabinet, while 55 percent answered they did not. The rate among supporters of the LDP's junior coalition partner Komeito was just under 50 percent.

Meanwhile, an overwhelming majority of respondents expressed doubt over the administration's statements on the Moritomo document doctoring scandal. Finance Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso has declared that the deletions and alterations to the 14 land deal documents concerned were made to match their content to Diet testimony by former Financial Bureau and National Tax Agency chief Nobuhisa Sagawa. However, 76 percent of Mainichi pollees said they were "unconvinced" by this explanation, as against 13 percent who said they were satisfied with it. Furthermore, 54 percent of respondents told the Mainichi that they thought Aso should resign his Cabinet portfolios, while 32 percent said there was no need for him to leave his posts.

Opposition parties have demanded that Akie Abe be summoned to the Diet as a witness to provide details on exactly what happened in the Moritomo affair. However, the ruling coalition has no plans to acquiesce to this request. In the Mainichi poll, 63 percent of respondents said Akie should be summoned, while 26 percent said there was no need for her to appear before the Diet.

Even among LDP backers, 47 percent said she should be summoned, while 44 percent replied there was no need. The narrow difference suggests the ruling bloc will face rising criticism if it continues to stonewall calls for Akie to testify.

Seventy-three percent of respondents also told the Mainichi that their trust in government document management had been "shaken" by the Moritomo scandal, while 13 percent said it had not.

Looking ahead to the LDP leadership election in September this year, 29 percent of respondents said that Abe should continue as party president for a third term -- a 12-point drop from last month. Fifty-five percent said they were in favor of a change. Meanwhile, even among LDP supporters, backing for a third Abe term as the head of the party fell 12 points from February's poll, dropping to 58 percent.

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