Kishida’s Cabinet struggles amid falling public support

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, foreground, speaks at the International Fleet Review on Sunday aboard the destroyer Izumo.

A nine-point drop in the Cabinet approval rating, from 45% early last month to 36% early this month, caused shock and alarm in the government and ruling parties.

Despite the launch of drastic comprehensive economic measures in late October, an array of other problems — including issues involving the Unification Church — means that Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s administration is likely to remain in a state of crisis.

A discouraging sign

“We will respond firmly to crucial domestic and international issues, such as high prices and problems involving North Korea, in order to restore public trust,” Liberal Democratic Party Secretary General Toshimitsu Motegi said Sunday, reacting to the continued decline of the Cabinet’s approval rating.

The resignation of economic revitalization minister Daishiro Yamagiwa in connection with his contact with the Unification Church had been seen as a “brake on the falling approval ratings” in the government and ruling parties — as was the announcement of the major economic measures, intended to ease the burden of utility bills on households.

The results of The Yomiuri Shimbun’s latest opinion poll therefore disappointed them.

“I thought the approval rating would improve, but I’m surprised it has dropped this much,” one Cabinet minister said.

LDP General Council Chairman Toshiaki Endo said: “The public has not yet been made aware of the content of the economic measures. The problems involving the Unification Church are also lingering, and the public seems to have a sense of uneasiness toward an uncertain future.”

Some in the LDP believe Yamagiwa’s resignation should have come sooner. Furthermore, his resignation as a minister was followed by his appointment to head the party’s COVID-19 task force. Another former minister called this “a complete failure to read the harsh atmosphere of public opinion, further fueling dissatisfaction and frustration with the government.”

Breakthrough sought

Kishida sees properly dealing with issues involving the Unification Church (officially called the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification) as a decisive factor in achieving a breakthrough.

The government plans to launch an investigation as early as possible within this year and seek a court order to dissolve the group if serious violations of laws and regulations are confirmed.

The government and ruling parties are also making all-out efforts to enact a new law to prevent the damage caused when people are pressed to make large donations. However, talks with opposition parties have run into difficulties, and efforts to enact a law before the current Diet session ends on Dec. 10 have become a “race against time.”

A senior LDP official warned, “It will be a further blow if we fail to produce any result.”

Deliberations will begin later this month on the second supplementary budget for fiscal 2022, which will provide funding for the economic measures. Opposition parties will continue to pursue the Unification Church issue while also demanding the resignation of Internal Affairs and Communications Minister Minoru Terada over a political funds issue.

Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan President Kenta Izumi said, “At the Budget Committee meeting, we will sternly criticize the economic measures that have only inflated the amount of spending and suspicions involving Mr. Terada.”

Democratic Party for the People leader Yuichiro Tamaki said, “The government has dragged its feet regarding Mr. Yamagiwa’s resignation and the economic measures, and it is causing a decline in it’s own approval rating.”

Kishida will attend three summits later this month, including an ASEAN summit meeting. Toward the end of the year, the government will revise three documents, including the National Security Strategy.

“Approval ratings will remain low for the time being, but we have no choice but to steadily tackle each issue one by one and turn the situation around,” a source close to the prime minister said.