Pressure mounts on Abe as support shrinks

I’m sorry: Abe telling reporters that he apologises to the public over altering Finance Ministry’s documents at his office in Tokyo. — Reuters

TOKYO: Pressure mounted on Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe over a ballooning cronyism and cover-up scandal, as a new poll showed his support at the lowest level since his re-election in October.

Abe and his finance minister Taro Aso have been on the ropes in recent days following revelations that key documents relating to a controversial land sale were doctored before being sent to MPs.

Aso was forced to fend off opposition calls to resign on Monday after admitting his ministry altered 14 sets of documents sent to parliament.

The scandal surrounds the 2016 sale of state-owned land to a nationalist operator of schools who claims ties to Abe and his wife Akie.

The sale was clinched at a price well below market value amid allegations that the high-level connections helped grease the deal.

Abe and Aso both apologised “deeply” over the affair amid signs the PM’s popularity is suffering six months before he stands for re-election as head of the ruling LDP party.

A new poll released by public broadcaster NHK yesterday showed support for the Abe government dropped to the lowest since he won a resounding re-election in October.

His support fell by two percentage points to 44% from last month, NHK said, while a separate survey in the Yomiuri Shimbun daily showed support down six percentage points to 48%.

Commentators said the survival of Aso, a close Abe ally and deputy prime minister, was key to the leader’s own ability to stay in the job.

Aso has been at the centre of the Abe administration since its start in December 2012, playing a key role in the prime minister’s trademark “Abenomics” economic policy.

“If Aso leaves the government, the cabinet would surely be destabilised,” the Yomiuri Shimbun said yesterday.

Adding to the sense of political crisis in Japan, Aso hinted he might skip a Group of 20 finance ministers’ meeting next week in Buenos Aires, saying his attendance “depends on the situation of the current parliament”. — AFP

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