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Survey: Japanese PM Popularity Continues to Drop - 2002-03-04

Public support for Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi continues to drop, according to a series of recent surveys. Voters say they are increasingly concerned about the country's ailing economy - now in its third recession in a decade.

A poll by Japan's mass-circulation Mainichi newspaper, conducted on Saturday and Sunday, shows that public approval for Prime Minister Koizumi has fallen to 49 percent. It is the lowest rating in any of the newspaper's polls since the once wildly popular leader took office almost a year ago.

In a separate survey, another newspaper found that Mr. Koizumi's support rating fell to 53.5 percent, down five percentage points from last month.

Mr. Koizumi appears to be losing ground among one of his strongest constituencies: women. The Asahi newspaper says that for the first time, its research shows that the number of women who disapprove of the leader exceeds those who support him.

These polls are among the first taken since the Japanese government unveiled a deflation-fighting package last week to stimulate the country's struggling economy. It authorizes the government to provide financial support to troubled banks and restricts some types of stock deals. Many Japanese think the plan is inadequate.

Gregory Clark is the president at Tama University in Tokyo. He says many voters are becoming disillusioned with their leader. "It is not the end of the world, but it is certainly a very heavy drop from 70 to 80 percent popularity that he used to have. A lot of it is related to the unfortunate dismissal of his former Foreign Minister Makiko Tanaka, but also I think it is the continuing poor state of the economy that has dragged his popularity down, too," Mr. Clark said.

Mr. Koizumi dismissed the controversial but popular Ms. Tanaka in late January after she argued with her aides. The move marked the beginning of the prime minister's decline in popularity, which shows no sign of stopping.

In addition, a well-publicized political scandal involving a powerful lawmaker from Mr. Koizumi's Liberal Democratic Party also appears to be hurting the prime minister's support. Muneo Suzuki is alleged to have interfered with affairs at Japan's Foreign Ministry and is accused of meddling in the awarding of government contracts.

Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi said Monday that "the relationship between Mr. Suzuki and the Foreign Ministry is an unprecedented case, which should never have happened." She also "vows to respond strongly against unreasonable pressure from politicians."

The scandal is eating into Mr. Koizumi's popularity ratings. Mr. Suzuki is under pressure to resign.