Support for Japan Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's new veterans-packed cabinet jumped sharply to about 40 percent, according to a survey released yesterday, although media warned the crisis for the Japanese leader was not over.
Abe, 52, whose ratings had been in tatters after his ruling camp suffered a disastrous election defeat last month, ditched most of his close allies and tapped experienced politicians for key posts in a reshuffle on Monday.
"It's an unexpected success," said Jun Iio, professor of government at the National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies. "People feel a sense of security with a return to the old Liberal Democratic Party, compared with the previous ministers."
Kyodo news agency said support for the reshuffled cabinet was at 40.5 percent, up 11.5 percentage points from its previous survey conducted shortly after the July election, at which the opposition won a majority in parliament's upper house. One media poll had put support for Abe's administration as low as 22 percent after the election.
Asked how he would ensure that the rise in popularity was more than a temporary blip, Abe told reporters: "More than anything else, we must respond to the people's expectations ... To do this we must carry out policies."
Respondents to the nationwide survey, conducted on Monday and yesterday and the first since the cabinet reshuffle, hardly gave Abe a resounding vote of confidence.
About one third of those backing the cabinet cited the lack of a suitable alternative to Abe and only 2.2 percent cited his leadership qualities. "This cabinet is better than the first 'buddy-buddy' cabinet," said Ryuichi Tsuruta, 55, who works for a car sales firm in Tokyo. "But Abe himself has no leadership ability."
Abe's reshuffled cabinet had received a lukewarm reception from media, reflecting doubts about his leadership capabilities, concern about the future direction of policies and the looming battle with the main opposition Democratic Party in parliament.
Abe's first cabinet - which critics charged was packed with inexperienced allies - lost four members to gaffes and scandals in a mere 11 months, including one who committed suicide.
Abe, who took office with an ambitious conservative agenda that includes revising the pacifist constitution, had come under fire for being out of touch with voters' pocket-book concerns.
In a news conference on Monday, the prime minister pledged to press ahead with economic reforms but also to address the pain of rural voters and others suffering from such policies.