TOKYO Support for Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has plunged after questions were raised in parliament about a murky land deal involving an elementary school to which his wife had ties, according to an online poll published on Wednesday.
Abe has said neither he nor his wife, Akie, was involved in the deal for state-owned land purchased by Moritomo Gakuen, an educational body in the western city of Osaka that also runs a kindergarten promoting patriotism.
But an online survey by Japan's Nikkei business daily found that Abe's support fell to 36.1 percent in a survey conducted from March 4 to 7 from 63.7 percent in the previous week.
Of the 2,655 respondents, 70.8 percent said they would like the school principal and other relevant people to answer questions on the issue before parliament as opposition parties have demanded, a request that Abe's ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) has so far refused.
The LDP on Sunday formalized a rule change that will allow party presidents a third consecutive three-year term, allowing Abe, who has been largely untainted by scandal and whose rule is now in its fifth year, to run again after his current tenure as party chief ends in September 2018. If the LDP stays in power, that makes it highly likely that Abe would remain as premier.
Japanese markets shrugged off the news, mainly because the school scandal is still viewed as a transient factor, said Hiroaki Hiwada, a strategist at Toyo Securities Co.
"Up to now, there haven't been any scandals in which Abe was the main actor, so that even though some foreign investors may be using this as a reason to hold back there are still many expectations for his policies based on the success of the recent Japan-U.S. leaders' summit," he added.
(Additional reporting by Marika Tsuji, writing by Elaine Lies; Editing by Richard Pullin)