TOKYO — Japanese Prime Minister Sosuke Uno is facing rising public disapproval in the capital for his alleged role in a sex scandal, an opinion poll released Thursday indicates.
Support for Uno's administration was as low as 10% in a survey of Tokyo residents, while as many as 70% of respondents did not approve of his Cabinet, according to Kyodo News Service, which conducted the poll.
Kyodo's telephone survey of 500 eligible voters also showed a serious erosion of support for the ruling Liberal Democratic Party in next Sunday's Tokyo metropolitan election, which is expected to be a benchmark for national voting patterns following the convulsions of the Recruit bribery scandal that toppled the government of Noboru Takeshita, Uno's predecessor.
While as many as 42% said they had supported the ruling party in the past, only 13% of the respondents in the Kyodo poll supported it now. That was less than the 16% who said they would vote for a Socialist candidate.
The results came just one day after Japanese newspapers reported that Uno was on the verge of quitting his post, which he assumed at the beginning of the month, because of an escalating scandal over peccadilloes in his private life. Women's groups and opposition politicians have reacted with outrage to the confessions of a 40-year-old former geisha who accused Uno of paying her for sex in a brief affair four years ago.
Uno has declined to comment on the kiss-and-tell expose, which was originally published in the weekly magazine Sunday Mainichi and gathered credibility in the minds of many Japanese only after the foreign news media circulated it abroad.
It is custom in Japan for the mainstream media to ignore compromising reports on the private lives of politicians and public figures--outside the show business industry--but Uno's position has become increasingly untenable after further allegations of extra-marital relations surfaced.
With the news that another prurient report was due to come out today in the gossipy, voyeuristic photo magazine Focus, Uno told would-be confidants Tuesday night that he was inclined to resign because the sex scandal will undermine his credibility at the upcoming Paris economic summit, the major dailies reported Wednesday.
"I find the present development utterly regrettable," the newspaper Yomiuri quoted Uno as telling Takami Eto, deputy general secretary of the ruling party. "Here I am, staking my life for this country, and commercial magazines continue to carry damaging articles on me, preventing me from attending the Paris summit."
The Yomiuri quoted an unnamed high-ranking official in the party as saying Uno was "highly intoxicated" and therefore not serious when he declared: "I can no longer perform as prime minister."
Other reports suggested the prime minister was on the verge of a nervous breakdown.
Uno and other government officials quickly denied the reports, which Uno dismissed with the word "stupid."
But pundits are still speculating on how long he will remain in office in his apparent caretaker capacity. It appears likely that he will continue serving as prime minister at least until the Liberal Democrats weather a July 23 election in which half the seats in the upper house of Parliament are to be contested.
"Uno is Japan's top political leader. It is bizarre indeed that this man is being forced, for personal reasons, to virtually hide from the voting public right before important elections," the influential Asahi newspaper said in an editorial Thursday. "One can hardly say that Uno is living up to his responsibilities as prime minister."
The Asahi summed up the public reaction to Uno's deteriorating position by saying, "The great majority of Japanese, including LDP supporters, have become disgusted with the whole sordid series of developments."