Japan’s prime minister, Shinzo Abe, is likely to resign in June after two cronyism scandals sent his approval ratings to an all-time low and risk damaging his party’s fortunes in elections next year, according to one of Japan’s most popular postwar leaders.
Junichiro Koizumi, a flamboyant reformer who was prime minister from 2001-06, told a weekly magazine published on Monday that Abe has found himself in a “dangerous” situation over the scandals, adding: “Won’t he resign around the time the current parliamentary session ends [on 20 June]?”
Speaking to Aera magazine, Koizumi said Abe could harm his Liberal Democratic party’s chances in next summer’s upper house elections if he manages to cling on to the LDP presidency in a leadership election due in September.
Abe has been badly bruised by allegations of cronyism centering on the heavily discounted sale of public land to the operator of an ultra-nationalist kindergarten in Osaka with links to his wife, Akie Abe.
He has consistently denied any wrongdoing, and said he would resign if he or his wife were shown to have been intervened in the sale of the land.
The finance ministry recently admitted to tampering with documents to remove references to Abe and his wife in papers relating to the decision to provide an 85% discount on the appraised value of the land.
He is also alleged to have used his influence to help a friend secure permission to open a veterinary school – claims he has rejected. Last week, however, an official document emerged describing the veterinary school as “an issue that involves the prime minister”.
Although he shares Abe’s hawkish views on defence, Koizumi has emerged as a vocal critic of the prime minister’s support for nuclear power. Abe wants to expand nuclear’s share of the energy mix, while Koizumi has called for its abolition following the March 2011 meltdown in Fukushima.
His comments came after he speculated that Abe would find it “difficult” to secure the LDP presidency for a third three-year term this autumn, telling reporters: “He has lost trust and whatever he says sounds like an excuse.”
New polls show the twin education scandals have caused dramatic slump in Abe’s support ratings, with many voters saying they were not convinced by his explanations.
A survey by broadcaster Nippon TV released on Sunday showed Abe’s support had sunk to 26.7%, the lowest since he took office in December 2012. An Asahi newspaper poll published on Monday put his rating at 31%.
On Saturday, protestors gathered in front of the national diet building to demand his resignation, with organisers claiming up to 50,000 people had taken part.
Shigeru Ishiba, a former defence minister, was the most popular choice to replace Abe in a weekend poll by Kyodo news, with 26.6%. Koizumi’s son, Shinjiro Koizumi, came second with 25.2%, with Abe in third place with 18.3%.
Abe will arrive in the US this week for talks with Donald Trump on trade and North Korea’s nuclear weapons programme.
Despite his attempts to establish a close personal relationship with the US president, there are concerns Abe has been sidelined by a recent flurry diplomatic activity that will see the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, meet South Korea’s president, Moon-Jae-in, this month, as well as a possible summit between Kim and Trump the following month.