As scandal simmers, majority of Japan firms want PM Abe to go

Shinzo Abe broke a century-old record to become Japan’s longest-serving premier in November. (AFP pic)

TOKYO: A majority of Japanese firms want long-serving Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to finish his term to September 2021 but fewer than one in five say he should stay beyond then, a Reuters poll showed, as allegations that he broke campaign laws erode public support.

Opposition lawmakers allege Abe favoured supporters with invites to an annual state-funded cherry-blossom viewing party and may have broken campaign laws by subsidising backers’ attendance at a reception the night before.

Questions have also arisen over whether a gangster attended the state-funded event and why this year’s invitation list was shredded.

The prime minister has denied any wrongdoing.

Abe, who quit after a troubled 2006-07 term and returned to office in December 2012 promising to revive the economy, in November became Japan’s longest-serving premier, breaking a record set over a century ago.

“A lengthy administration invites concentration of power and corruption may easily emerge, but there is no other politician with the experience and ability,” a manager at a textile firm said in a written response explaining why Abe should stay on.

59% said Abe should complete his term as Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) leader but then step down. Another 16% want him to stay longer.

That would require a rule change by the LDP, whose head is virtually assured the premiership if the party stays in power.

25%, though, said he should quit sooner.

“Domestically, there is a feeling of stagnation and friction with neighbouring countries has emerged,” wrote a manager at a transport-equipment firm.

Japan’s relations with US ally South Korea have chilled due to a feud over their shared wartime legacy, although ties with China have improved.

Media polls have shown the cherry-blossom affair chipping away at voter support, although backing for the fragmented opposition remains weak. A Mainichi newspaper survey published Monday showed a 6% drop to 42% from October.

The decline has not ended speculation that Abe might call a snap lower-house election to renew his mandate.

Former defence minister Shigeru Ishiba, an outspoken Abe critic, topped the list – barely – of lawmakers respondents want to take over as premier when Abe’s term ends, with 17% to Abe’s 16%. LDP rising star Shinjiro Koizumi was the choice for 11%.

The corporate survey, conducted from Nov 20 to Dec 2 for Reuters by Nikkei Research, canvassed 502 big and midsize non-financial companies. Roughly 240 firms answered questions on politics on condition of anonymity to express opinions freely.