Japan PM's public support plunges: Nikkei

TOKYO, December 26, 2011 (AFP) - Support for Japan's prime minister plunged in December as voters lost faith in his leadership, amid party turmoil and criticism over his handling of the nuclear crisis, a poll said Monday.

The share of voters who said they actively disapproved of Yoshihiko Noda, who only who took office in September, was up 14 points from a month earlier to 53 percent, the Nikkei business daily said.

The percentage of people saying they approved of the premier fell 15 points to 36 percent.

The trend mirrors the fate of Noda's five short-lived predecessors, who all came to power with relatively high approval ratings only to see them quickly fade. All were out of office around a year later.

The newspaper said parliamentary censure motions against two of Noda's ministers as well as a widening divide within his party over the drafting of a fiscal 2012 budget proposal had undermined public confidence in the premier.

The Nikkei said 78 percent of poll participants did not accept Noda's announcement this month of the effective end of the accident at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, the worst nuclear crisis in 25 years.

Noda had declared on December 16 that the reactors -- crippled by Japan's quake-tsunami disaster in March -- had reached a state of "cold shutdown".

The announcement means only that the temperature inside the reactors has remained below 100 degrees centigrade (212 Fahrenheit) for a period of time and that emissions of radioactive materials have dropped off.

The work to decommission the plant and clean up the area around it could take up to four decades, officials have said.

The survey came as the ruling Democratic Party of Japan struggles with deep factional divides over a wide range of issues, from ways to rebuild the tsunami-hit region to trade policies.

The Nikkei noted that Noda's falling popularity was echoed across the political spectrum. Support for the ruling party dropped four points to 28 percent, while that for the main opposition Liberal Democratic Party also fell four points to 26 percent.

Noda's proposal to double the five-percent consumption tax, a step deemed necessary by global experts to rein in Japan's enormous public debt, was also unpopular, the Nikkei said.

Some 53 percent of respondents opposed the plan, against 38 percent who supported it.

The Nikkei survey was carried out by telephone from Friday to Sunday and received 928 valid answers.