TOKYO: Japan's prime minister was forced into an embarrassing climbdown over a key plank of his economic policy today after data he put forward to support it were discovered to be riddled with errors.
A red-faced Shinzo Abe apologised to parliament and "accepted" there were mistakes in statistics used to support the bill, a key part of his "Abenomics" strategy to rekindle Asia's former economic powerhouse.
He had proposed expanding the so-called "discretionary work system", under which employees receive benefits for a fixed amount of overtime hours, regardless of how much they actually work.
This was part of efforts to reduce Japan's notoriously long working hours, as well as a bid to boost productivity in the world's third-largest economy.
Opposition lawmakers and unions had criticised the plan, saying employees would not be compensated for additional work beyond the fixed overtime limit.
To support his argument, Abe cited labour ministry data showing working hours for those under the discretionary work system could be shorter than for employees with normal work conditions.
However, the opposition spotted dozens of inconsistencies in the data including absurdities like statistics showing overtime of "45 hours per day", according to Japanese media.
The data scandal has dominated the front pages of Japan's national papers in recent days with the liberal Asahi daily saying today that it had resulted in "damage" to the Abe administration.
Mass circulation Yomiuri said Abe had made the decision to "minimise the damage" to his political capital ahead of a party leadership election later this year.
Abe enjoys relatively high public support even though disapproval rates have risen in recent months, due partly to other scandals including allegations of favouritism to a friend in a business deal -- which the premier strongly denies.
Given weak opposition and no major internal rivals, Abe's re-election as party leader for the third time is widely expected but a victory with a small margin could weaken his political power.