Yasuo Fukuda, Japan’s prime minister, has suffered a sharp drop in public support as he approaches the end of his first six months in office, reflecting growing dissatisfaction with the government’s failure to break a stalemate with the opposition over important policy steps.

Mr Fukuda’s support rating fell by six points to 24.7 per cent in a poll conducted over the weekend by TV Asahi, a leading broadcaster.

Separately, a survey over the weekend by the Nikkei business newspaper showed that Mr Fukuda’s support rating had fallen nine points to 31 per cent since its previous poll in February.

The Yomiuri, Japan’s most widely read newspaper, said 64 per cent of those surveyed in a poll it conducted on March 15 and 16 did not consider Mr Fukuda or his cabinet to be doing a satisfactory job.

A quarter of those surveyed by the Yomiuri wanted Mr Fukuda to step down as soon as possible.

“Our basic stance to listen to the public’s voice has not changed,” Nobutaka Machi­mura, chief cabinet secretary, told TV Asahi.

The pointed decline in Mr Fukuda’s support rating, which was as high as 59 per cent when he came to office last September, comes as the government has been prevented by the opposition from naming a new Bank of Japan governor and passing legislation to extend a number of provisional taxes. Without these taxes, government revenues would fall by Y2,670bn ($26.5bn, €17.3bn, £13.4bn), according to Goldman Sachs.

The fall in the prime minister’s popularity “is not surprising”, says Robert Feldman, chief economist at Morgan Stanley in Tokyo. “People are worried about his ability to implement policies. It will not inspire extra confidence in the market.”

Mr Fukuda has come under fire for the vacancy at the top of the central bank, following the end of Toshihiko Fukui’s term as governor last Wednesday.

Mr Fukuda, whose manner of speech has often made him appear detached from the pressing issues his government faces, has come under particularly strong criticism for a lack of leadership. Of those polled by the Nikkei, 63 per cent said they did not support the Fukuda cabinet because he lacked leadership.

The slide in Mr Fukuda’s support comes amid a deterioration in business sentiment.

A government survey yesterday showed that business sentiment at large manufacturers fell in the first three months of the year to its lowest level since the government began collecting data in 2004.

The survey index dropped to minus 12.9 for January to March compared with plus 5.2 in the previous quarter. Economists expect the BoJ’s closely watched Tankan survey of business confidence, to be released on April 1, to show a significant drop.

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