Japan’s Yoshihide Suga gets no Olympics boost as he heads into election
Support for Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga fell to new lows in three media polls, showing the Tokyo Olympics did little to shore up his approval ahead of a general election that must be held by the end of November.
Suga’s initially high support was hit by disapproval of his handling of the pandemic, with the current wave of infections bringing case numbers to their worst levels yet, though death rates remain relatively low. A slow start to vaccinations means less than one-third of the population is fully immunized.
A survey by the Yomiuri newspaper carried out between Aug. 7-9 found support for Suga’s cabinet at 35%, the lowest since he took office in September. A separate survey by broadcaster JNN put support at 32.6%, also a fresh low, while a third poll published by the Asahi newspaper found support had tumbled below 30%, often cited as crisis level for Japanese leaders.
Much of the public opposed Suga’s decision to press ahead with staging the games, amid fears it could become a super-spreader event. Relatively few cases were directly linked to the Olympics, which ended Sunday, although experts said the event may have prompted a more relaxed attitude toward virus precautions, and thus worsened the spread.
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More than 60% of respondents to the JNN survey said they disapproved of Suga’s handling of the coronavirus, and a similar number said they didn’t agree with a new policy of hospitalizing only serious cases and those at risk of suffering serious symptoms. Some 84 people were found to have died of the virus at home in the first six months of this year, NHK reported.
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While 60% of respondents to the JNN survey said they believed the Olympics had led to an increase in Covid cases, a majority of respondents to all three polls said they were glad the Olympics had gone ahead.
Initially elected to take over the last year of Shinzo Abe’s term as leader of the Liberal Democratic Party following his resignation last year, Suga must win his own term as party president in a vote due next month. Two-thirds of respondents to the Yomiuri survey said the party should pick a different leader, with former Defense Minister Shigeru Ishiba the most popular choice to take over.
While the opposition doesn’t boast the support to oust the long-ruling LDP in the general election, Suga’s unpopularity raises the risk of a loss of seats, potentially undermining his control of the party.