'Japan PM Abe won't quit': Ruling party

Japan's beleaguered Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will not resign no matter how badly his coalition fares in Sunday's elections, his government vowed Tuesday.

'Japan PM Abe won't quit': Ruling party
Japan's beleaguered Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will not resign no matter how badly his coalition fares in Sunday's elections, his government vowed Tuesday.

The remarks came despite opinion polls showing the conservative premier's approval ratings have plummeted to around 30 percent after a series of scandals and gaffes involving top aides.

Abe's woes and the lack of a clear successor have raised speculation that Japan could be heading back to an era of instability seen in the 1990s, when new premiers took office almost every year.

Chief government spokesman Yasuhisa Shiozaki stressed that Sunday's vote was for only the upper house of parliament -- not the lower house, which appoints the premier and where the ruling coalition enjoys a strong majority.

"Elections for the upper house are not seen as occasions to choose an administration. This election will be no exception," Shiozaki told a news conference.

But upper house elections, which take place every three years, are often seen as a referendum on the ruling party. In 1998, prime minister Ryutaro Hashimoto resigned after defeat in an upper house election.

Shiozaki brushed aside the historic precedent, saying, "Those were decisions of the administrations of the time."

In a sign of a coordinated strategy, Shoichi Nakagawa, the policy chief of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), held his own news conference and said Abe's job was not at stake.

"Whether Prime Minister Abe resigns is not going to be an issue in this election," Nakagawa told a news conference.

But other ruling party members have already hinted they would no longer back Abe if the LDP-led coalition loses the upper house.

"If there's a deadlock, then that ultimately would lead to a change in government," Yoshimi Watanabe, the minister in charge of administrative reform, said late Monday, as quoted by public broadcaster NHK.

Harumi Arima, a political analyst and former secretary to a lawmaker, predicted that some LDP members would turn on Abe if the party fared badly in the election.

"Close aides to Abe such as Shoichi Nakagawa keep saying that the election results have nothing to do with the Abe administration, but lower house members have already begun worrying," Arima said.

"If Abe doesn't take responsibility and doesn't resign, then voters will probably punish the LDP in the next lower house elections," he said.

Abe took office in September as the chosen successor of Junichiro Koizumi, a maverick reformist who was one of modern Japan's longest-serving premiers.

Abe initially used the strong majority he inherited from Koizumi to push his conservative ideas close to his heart, including requiring schools to teach "patriotism," a taboo since World War II.

But Abe has taken a beating in polls and changed the focus of his election campaign after a government agency admitted it bungled millions of pensions payments -- a sensitive issue in the rapidly greying country.

"Opinion polls at this point show a severe situation for us, but I believe our policies have received the public's approval, not criticism," Nakagawa said.

"The low approval ratings come from other problems," he said, in apparent reference to the scandals that have dogged Abe's cabinet.

Two of Abe's ministers have quit and another committed suicide under the cloud of scandal.

AFP

Güncelleme Tarihi: 24 Temmuz 2007, 13:57
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