Japan's Abe Sees Approval Rating Jump as Scandal Fears Recede

(Bloomberg) -- Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s approval rating jumped in two public opinion surveys, in the latest sign his premiership had escaped danger after a series of domestic scandals earlier this year.

Approval for Abe’s government climbed 10 percentage points to 52 percent, according to a poll conducted by the Nikkei newspaper and TV Tokyo. Disapproval dropped to 42 percent in the poll conducted between Friday and Sunday, compared with 53 percent in May. Separately, a poll by the Mainichi newspaper found the cabinet’s support climbed 5 percentage points to 36 percent.

Japan's Abe Sees Approval Rating Jump as Scandal Fears Recede

The polls suggest that Abe has survived another political close-call after allegations of cronyism and abuse of power drove down his popularity just months ahead of a crucial party election. The September vote to decide leadership of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party will probably determine whether Abe can stay on to become Japan’s longest-serving prime minister, since a fragmented opposition poses little electoral threat.

The surveys reduce the risk of a more dramatic course shift on Japan’s ultra-easy monetary policy, next year’s planned consumption tax increase or proposals to amend the anti-war provision of the country’s post-war constitution. Abe recovered from similar popularity declines last year -- going on to win a landslide election victory in October -- and in 2015, after pushing through controversial legislation to expand the powers of Japan’s military.

This year’s downturn was seen as Abe’s biggest political challenge since he stepped down amid a public relations maelstrom in September 2007, citing a chronic digestive ailment. The latest polls suggest Abe’s repeated public apologies, as well as a decision by Finance Minister Taro Aso -- a key figure in several scandals -- to take a pay cut had satisfied some government critics.

“The approval rating is sometimes high, sometimes low, I don’t think every move will make me or us happy,” Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a briefing Monday in Tokyo. “As an administration, it’s important to conscientiously respond to domestic and international issues and through policy to create results one by one.”

Abe still faces a potential challenge by former Defense Minister Shigeru Ishiba, 61, in the September LDP election. While Ishiba hasn’t declared whether he’ll run, he told Bloomberg News that an uncontested election would be bad for the ruling party and said he would try to make a decision this month.

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