Support for Japan’s Suga slides as latest virus wave worsens


Support for Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga’s government slid for the second straight month, as the premier struggled to balance controlling the country’s worst-yet coronavirus outbreak with shoring up the economy.

The premier’s support fell five percentage points to 58% — a new low — in a survey carried out by the Nikkei newspaper and TV Tokyo between Nov. 27-29. About 48% of respondents said they disapproved of his government’s handling of the virus, up from 35% a month earlier, the survey released Monday showed.

Public approval could play into when he’ll call the next election, which must be held in less than a year, and dictate whether he can parlay his stop-gap position into a longer term in Japan’s top job.

Suga is unlikely to opt for a January election so that he can focus on virus control, the Nikkei newspaper reported Saturday, after a week in which he was forced to suspend part of a travel incentive program aimed at bolstering regional economies because of spreading infections. While Japan’s total death toll, at just over 2,000, is by far the lowest among Group of Seven major economies, the country’s 7-day average of new cases is at its highest since the pandemic began.

Summer is now the earliest likely option for the election, according to the Nikkei. Given Suga’s determination to stage the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics between July and September 2021, he could be forced to hold the vote in a narrow window before the end of the lower house term in October, a scenario that has played out badly for other Japanese leaders.

His Liberal Democratic Party’s ruling coalition is set to retain power with the opposition mired in single-digit support rates. But Suga’s LDP could lose seats, raising questions about his longevity as leader and weakening his government’s hand as it pushes for priorities such as administrative reform and maintaining his predecessor Shinzo Abe’s ultra-easy monetary policy.

Previously Abe’s right-hand man during his record run as premier, Suga scored the third-highest support rate for a prime minister on record when he was installed in September after his boss’s sudden resignation due to illness.

Suga, the taciturn son of a strawberry farmer, was buoyed by his reputation for hard work and focus on pocket-book issues like reducing mobile phone charges.