Japanese PM Kan support falls below 30 percent, clouding further reforms

By Kiyoshi Takenaka and Linda Sieg, Reuters

TOKYO Support for Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan’s government has slipped back below 30 percent, further reducing its chances of winning support to enact a workable budget and for measures to cut huge public debt.

With such low ratings in opinion polls, analysts doubted Kan would risk caving in to demands to call a snap election. But they said the opposition would now be even less likely to back his efforts to craft tax and social security reforms to pay for the rising costs of a fast-ageing population and slash public debt already twice the size of the US$5 trillion economy.

Several past premiers, including his immediate predecessor, resigned after their ratings broke below 30 percent but analysts said it was far from certain Kan, the country’s fifth leader since 2006, would follow suit.

A Yomiuri newspaper survey, published on Thursday, showed support for the Democratic Party-led government had fallen seven points to 27 percent, eroded by the indictment of powerbroker Ichiro Ozawa over a funding scandal and perceived missteps by Kan.

The former finance minister most recently came in for heavy criticism for saying he was “not very familiar with the matter” after Standard and Poor’s rating agency downgraded of Japan’s sovereign debt last week. The International Monetary Fund is also pressing Tokyo to take urgent steps to cut its public debt, the largest among advanced economies. Kan has put tax and social welfare reforms at the top of his policy agenda but needs cooperation from the opposition, which controls the upper house, to implement them.

A more immediate problem faces the record US$1 trillion budget for the year from April 1. Kan’s party has enough votes in the lower house to enact the budget, but bills to implement the spending can still be held up in the upper chamber.