Tokyo: Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Monday defended as "necessary" an unpopular secrets law that he rushed through parliament, as a new poll showed his support rating had plunged 10 per cent in a month.
The conservative hawk admitted he could have better explained the new law, but insisted that it was a vital step to protect Japan and bring it into line with its allies.
"Unless our country establishes rules to manage confidential information, we cannot obtain such information from other countries," he told reporters.
"In order to protect people`s lives and property, it was necessary to pass the special secrecy law as quickly as possible."
The bill, which vastly broadens the scope of information that ministers can designate as a state secret, was railroaded through both chambers in just a month, thanks to the handsome majority Abe commands in the two houses.
Supporters have claimed Japan`s notoriously leaky government machine needs to be plugged to help support the creation of a new US-style National Security Council, and to encourage ally Washington to share its secrets.
But journalists, lawyers, academics and rights groups say the law is illiberal and represents "the largest threat to democracy in postwar Japan". They claim it undermines press freedoms and the public`s right to know.
Last week, a couple of demonstrations in Tokyo attracted upwards of 3,000 people in protest at the legislation.
Abe today moved to try to mollify opponents, insisting the law, which allows for up to 10 years` jail for people who spill state secrets, was not draconian.
"I heard about people`s concern that the scope of secrecy will be limitless, that people will be deprived of their right to know and ordinary life will be threatened," he said.
"But that should never happen. Before, we did not even have rules. Under the law, transparency will improve. I want to make that clear."
The premier, however, acknowledged public scepticism, adding: "With hindsight, perhaps I should have explained more carefully and taken more time in doing so."
Abe`s easy success has provided a boost to his conservative base, who have demanded that he beef up Japan`s military and toughen its diplomacy in the face of increasing hostility from China, particularly over disputed islands.
They see it as pay-off for toeing the line as he pushed several rounds of economic stimulus and monetary easing in his effort to get the economy back on track -- a priority that has been applauded by the public.
But the premier, who is set to mark his first year in office later this month, has suffered in the opinion polls over the secrets bill.
A survey published by Kyodo News today showed his once-comfortable personal approval rating had dropped 10.3 percent to 47.6 percent since the last poll in November.
A poll by national broadcaster NHK showed a similar drop since last month.
Although not disastrously low -- Abe`s predecessor was bumbling along under 20 percent in the months before he got hammered in last December`s general election -- the numbers are a reminder of the price Abe will pay if he takes his eye off the ball.
Japan`s electorate, which is deeply wedded to its pacifist constitution, is naturally sceptical of Abe`s nationalist tendencies and analysts say voters are only prepared to grant him licence while Japan`s once-stagnant economy continues to improve.