(Bloomberg) -- Tens of thousands of people joined a demonstration outside Japan’s parliament Saturday, in a sign of growing public anger over cronyism scandals engulfing Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
Organizers say about 50,000 people attended this weekend’s rally in Tokyo -- the biggest in nearly three years. Protesters, many young, held up signs calling Abe a “liar” and seeking his resignation.
The prime minister has been forced in parliament to deny his involvement in two controversies over land deals to close associates. An alleged cover-up over the activity of Japanese troops during the Iraq war is also casting a cloud over his government. A spokesman for Abe’s office didn’t immediately respond to an email seeking comment.
The scandals have pushed Abe’s approval ratings toward all-time lows, raising questions about his ability to win the ruling Liberal Democratic Party’s leadership election in September. Victory would put him on track to become Japan’s longest-serving prime minister.
A Kyodo poll taken over the weekend showed a drop of 5.4 percentage points in Abe’s approval from a survey just two weeks earlier, tumbling to 37 percent. The disapproval rating rose to almost 53 percent. Almost four-fifths of those surveyed said they were dissatisfied with Abe’s explanations over a long-running scandal centering on the decision to let his close friend open a veterinary school.
“The large number of people gathering is due to growing anger,” said Takeshi Suwahara, one of the leaders of Saturday’s protest. “A strong sense of crisis is spreading -- people now sincerely feel they have to speak out for what is right.”
While the protests are significant in a country where people tend to be reluctant to attend public demonstrations, they are still dwarfed by rallies in the summer of 2015 over Abe’s push to expand the powers of Japan’s military. Organizers of those gatherings said that around 350,000 people attended. Tokyo’s Metropolitan Police Department said it didn’t keep official figures for the numbers of attendees of Saturday’s event.
“The current protests only started last month, but the number of people joining them is going up at a pace that is faster than even in 2015,” said Koichi Nakano, a professor of political science at Sophia University in Tokyo. “The protesters are, of course, angry, but they also share the growing conviction that the Abe government is finally coming to an end.”
Helped by a divided opposition and a lack of strong challengers in his own party, Abe has so far been able to shake off several scandals and a slump in support stemming from the passing of controversial laws.
However his mentor, former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, says it will be tough for Abe to win a third term as ruling party chief. “He’s losing public trust,” Koizumi told reporters Saturday at an event north of Tokyo. “Anything he says is taken as making excuses.”
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