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Japan PM's Popularity Falls - 2002-02-03

New surveys indicate Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's popularity has plunged, just days after the resignation of popular foreign minister Makiko Tanaka. But members of the ruling coalition express confidence that Mr. Koizumi's standing will rebound.

Various surveys show that the Prime Minister's decision to oust the outspoken foreign minister cost him dearly. In a poll by Japan's largest circulation newspaper, the Yomiuri, two-thirds of the voters surveyed opposed the resignation of Makiko Tanaka. The approval rating for his cabinet has dropped to 47 percent, down from nearly 78 percent back in September.

Appearing on a Sunday talk show, Naoto Kan of the opposition Democratic Party said the public is angry and confused. Mr. Kan said there is a perception, which he shares, that Ms. Tanaka did nothing wrong and everyone is at a loss as to why she was ousted.

An editorial in the left-of-center daily Asahi Shimbun echoes that perception, saying the public has a strong feeling of despair.

Political analysts say members of Mr. Koizumi's own Liberal Democratic Party pushed for Ms. Tanaka's firing after a series of diplomatic blunders, high-profile battles with ministry deputies and her efforts to expose corruption in the ministry. Ms. Tanaka, often credited with helping put Mr. Koizumi in office, was forced to resign last week.

LDP Secretary General Taku Yamasaki says he believes the loss of confidence in Mr. Koizumi and his Cabinet will prove to be only temporary.

Mr. Yamasaki was one of several leaders of the ruling coalition who appealed to the public on Sunday to stick with Mr. Koizumi. Komei Party Secretary General Tetsuzo Fuyushiba warned that Japan will sink if the government does not carry out Mr. Koizumi's economic reforms.