Opposition wins mayoral poll as PM support drops

Following a significant victory by the opposition Democratic Party in a mayoral poll in Japan at the weekend, a media survey showed that support for Prime Minister Taro Aso's cabinet was down to 17.5 percent.


REUTERS - Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso and his ruling party suffered fresh setbacks on Monday as surveys showed his support had sunk again ahead of an election while the opposition Democratic Party widened its lead among voters.


Aso has come under renewed fire for lack of leadership after a highly public feud that prompted his internal affairs minister to resign on Friday, sparking speculation that the ruling party may seek to dump him ahead of an election many expect in August.


A weekend survey by Kyodo news agency showed that support for Aso’s cabinet had sunk nearly nine points to 17.5 percent.


Kyodo said 47.8 percent planned to vote for the Democrats in the next election, while support for the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), which has enjoyed five decades of almost unbroken rule, stood at 18.7 percent. The election must be held by October.


Kunio Hatoyama—a close Aso ally who is also the brother of Democratic Party leader Yukio Hatoyama—resigned after the prime minister refused to fire the head of Japan Post, which runs the postal office, over controversial property deals.


The dispute also reflected deep divides within the LDP over privatising the postal system including its financial arms, proposals backed by most voters when they gave the ruling bloc a huge victory in the last general election in 2005.


Hatoyama, the third minister to resign since Aso, 68, took office last year, told reporters on Monday he had no plan to leave the LDP or form a new group, but declined to rule out that possibility in the future.


Tokyo election in focus


A Democratic Party victory in the election for parliament’s powerful lower house would bring to power a party which has pledged to pay more heed to the interests of consumers and workers than corporations.


The Democrats have also vowed to pry control of policy-making from bureaucrats as a way to cut waste and to adopt a diplomatic stance more independent of close security ally the United States.


In another sign of the conservative LDP’s troubles, an opposition candidate won a closely-watched mayoral election on Sunday.


Japanese media speculated that Aso’s latest troubles could fuel moves in the LDP to oust him, especially if the party fares poorly in a July 12 Tokyo metropolitan assembly election being billed as a bellwether for the national poll.


“If there are going to be moves to oust Aso before the general election, it would most probably be after the Tokyo election,” said Koichi Nakano, a professor at Sophia University in Tokyo. “Of course, that is late, but it could be quite lethal for Aso because he’s putting his weight behind it.”


In the second local election victory for the Democrats since they replaced scandal-tainted leader Ichiro Ozawa last month, candidate Toshihito Kumagai, 31, defeated a rival supported by the LDP to become mayor of the city of Chiba near Tokyo.


A separate survey by the Mainichi newspaper put support for Aso’s cabinet at 19 percent, with more than two-thirds of voters disapproving of his handling of the dispute over Japan Post.


Thirty-two percent preferred Yukio Hatoyama as next prime minister compared to 15 percent who chose Aso. More than half said they wanted the Democrats to win the next election.

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