Support for Japan PM at record-low 15 percent

Yoshikazu Tsuno
Support for the cabinet of Japan's Prime Minister Naoto Kan, pictured on July 6, has plunged to 15 percent, the lowest level since his centre-left party took power in 2009, a newspaper poll said Tuesday

Support for the cabinet of Japan's Prime Minister Naoto Kan has plunged to 15 percent, the lowest level since his centre-left party took power in 2009, a newspaper poll said Tuesday.

Seventy percent of voters want Kan -- under pressure over his handling of the March 11 quake, tsunami and nuclear disaster -- to resign before parliament enters a recess late next month, said the Asahi Shimbun survey.

Kan, who took office a little over a year ago as Japan's fifth premier in as many years, has come under intense pressure from the conservative opposition and some members of his own Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) to step down.

In a tense political standoff, he has signalled he will bow out only after key bills on disaster reconstruction and promoting renewable energy are passed, while the opposition has threatened to block the bills until Kan goes.

The weekend poll found that 31 percent of respondents want Kan to step down now and another 39 percent want him to go by the end of August when the current parliament session ends, the liberal paper reported.

Support for Kan's cabinet tumbled to 15 percent from 22 percent in a June survey. The new reading is a record low since the DPJ swept to power in 2009, ending a half-century of almost straight conservative rule.

The approval rating of the DPJ's first premier, Yukio Hatoyama, had fallen to 17 percent shortly before he stepped down, the Asahi daily said.

Anti-nuclear sentiment has grown in Japan since the earthquake and tsunami crippled the Fukushima Daiichi plant, which suffered meltdowns and explosions and has leaked radiation into the air, soil and sea.

Kan has announced a full energy policy review since the Fukushima disaster and strongly promoted a push toward renewables such as solar and wind energy while announcing "stress tests" for all atomic plants.

Kan on Tuesday again told parliament that Japan must scrap its plan of increasing reliance on nuclear energy to 53 percent by 2030. Before the quake, atomic power met about 30 percent of Japan's electricity demand.

"We should start over from scratch," Kan said. "We can't help but lower our reliance on nuclear. The government plans to map out the full picture concerning energy and power supply in the near future."

The Asahi said in its report: "Prime Minister Kan has recently shown a stance of shifting away from atomic power generation... But the prime minister's stance has not resulted in (higher) support for him."

Kan on Tuesday told a parliamentary session there should be "debate" in Japan about the ability of the private sector to run nuclear power plants given the massive compensation bill faced by Tokyo Electric Power, operator of the Fukushima Daiichi plant, that some analysts put as high as 11 trillion yen ($137 billion).

Tens of thousands have been evacuated from their homes, farms and businesses in a 20-kilometre (12-mile) zone around the radiation-spewing plant, with evacuation pockets also further afield.

The government has put forward a scheme to ensure TEPCO meets huge compensation claims but worries for the firm's future remain under the weight of massive costs.