What led Shinzo Abe to resign?
By Chris Hogg
Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has caused a political earthquake, rocking the establishment with his surprise announcement that he was stepping down.
The resignation news conference was a spectacle.
Japan’s normally more deferent press corps demanded angrily and repeatedly: “Why?”
They got little satisfaction from the answers he gave them.
So what is the real reason he has decided to go?
It is possible that a deal was done between grandees in his party, the Liberal Democrats (LDP), and their opposite numbers in the opposition.
Japan’s government needs to get parliament to give permission for the country’s self-defence forces to continue to provide logistical support to the US military in Afghanistan – a plan which has been opposed vigorously by the opposition.
Some suspect Mr Abe’s scalp may have been offered in return for opposition support for the controversial new law.
The United States has put a lot of pressure on the government to get the anti-terrorism legislation passed so that the supply operation for its troops can continue.
Mr Abe’s colleagues may have realised he had become an obstacle to getting that achieved, and therefore needed to be removed.
But that is not the only possible reason that has been given for Mr Abe’s decision.
Some analysts talk about concerns over his health – and rumours that he has been under great “strain” were confirmed by the chief cabinet spokesman, although he refused to give any further details.
But Mr Abe has just returned from a three-nation summer tour, and only last weekend showed no signs of illness during the Apec regional summit in Australia.
The suddenness of the announcement has of course led to speculation that there is something more sinister behind it, perhaps a further scandal that is yet to become public.
As for that, we will just have to wait and see.
It is possible that he has just, at last, come to realise what others have known for some days now – that he had been so weakened by the defeat in this summer’s elections for the upper house of parliament that he was prime minister in name only and had no power to get anything done.
The loss of the upper house for the first time in his party’s history did not just mean the opposition could block the continued deployment on the self-defence forces in support of the Americans.
It also meant that they could disrupt his whole legislative programme, should they have chosen to.
And as this first parliamentary skirmish got under way, perhaps Mr Abe, or more importantly those around him, realised that with him at the helm the ship would flounder.
Of course there will be those who say this is just business as usual. Japanese prime ministers do not usually last long.
Mr Abe’s predecessor Junichiro Koizumi was unusual because he lasted five years. Mr Koizumi’s predecessor, however, had lasted, like Mr Abe, just a year.
So we are back to the revolving doors of men in grey suits.
Mr Abe will be remembered for the success he had in rebuilding relations with China and South Korea.
But he will probably not be remembered for long.
In the meantime, as with any earthquake, there are likely to be aftershocks in the coming days, as Japan’s governing party tries to work out what it should do next.
It looks like Shinzo Abe has finally left the building and will revert to a regular MP who can visit Yasukuni until his head explodes, be a faction leader that promotes ultranationalism or continue operating in peer review groups for revising Japanese history.
In any event, Abe is not as bad as many people would like to believe since he did after all make an effort to restore functional ties with China and South Korea and pressuring most of his Cabinet to not make super-happy trips to Yasukuni on important dates. However, what got him hurt among his taxpayers were his priorities in promoting Japanese nationalism and becoming a better American puppet at the expense of Japanese citizens’ concerns over the economy, inequality, and related social reforms.
The movie “Bubble Fiction: Boom or Bust [バブルへGO!!～タイムマシンはドラム式]” explored some of the problems of the post-Bubble economy. It had the main character travel back in time from 2007 to 1990 at the height of the Bubble Economy era that took off during the 1980s. In this time, it was said that taxis would get obscene gratuities from people just to get picked up, parents would regularly get their kids Louis Vutton handbags, and simply graduating from a top-tier university would guarantee lifetime employment in a major corporation or government organisation. Also, it touched on a time when Japan was a top innovator in technology with resources devoted for advanced research and buildings to house such programmes.
I found it funny how the people who the main character knows in the present were actually more successful in the past. For instance, her unethical loan shark in 2007 was once a top university graduate who was friendly and worked in the Japan Long-term Credit Bank and the main character’s “Mama-san” was once a famous Geisha before the economy went to hell.
In real life, it seems a good number of schoolgirls tried to maintain their large allowances their parents once gave by prostituting themselves or worse just to be able to get a similar cash flow to buy luxury items. Many top bankers and white collar workers did get laid off and eventually became unscrupulous individuals just to survive. At the same time, many companies went through restructuring which cost them many resources that would have went to innovation and growth for these same companies.
Moreover, many Japanese youths are disenchanted over their futures since they no longer have the quality of life their parents and grandparents once enjoyed while the gap between the riches and the poors increases in Japan. These disillusioned young people begin to fall back on their national pride since they don’t think they will have anything else (honor, money, career, girlfriend, baby etc). These youths eventually develop antagonistic attitudes towards Chinese and Koreans that is not too different from how poor whites attack blacks. They figure since they have no future and frustrated at their own lives, they might as well fall back to their History of Greater Japan.
It’s problems like these that keep concerning the average Japanese taxpayer, who also wants to see their quality of life restored to something that resembled the Bubble Economy period. So far, Abe Shinzo has failed to do that and it doesn’t help that his Cabinet also misappropriated pension funds or acted naturally stupid in public. As a result the LDP were voted out of power in the House of Councilors in favour of the DPJ as a protest vote by the public rather than an outright approval of the DPJ itself. Abe should have resigned at the time instead of dragging it for a few more months just to prove that he was stubborn in getting things done his way.
Because of this, the Nikkei 225 took a hit earlier today because his snap resignation compounded to the current subprime fiasco, and the piss-poor Yen-Dollar exchange rate. Then, there are rumours he quit because of mounting stress from his American overlords to extend their military support to the United States, from internal strife in the LDP and from the loss of the upper house. Also, there is now speculation that he quit because of another potential scandal that could rock Japan, as if they didn’t have enough problems.
In any case, I think I will miss Abe Shinzo despite his mismanagement of Japan and for denying exploitation of comfort women. After all, Abe’s successor will be an even bigger asshole as Abe was to Koizumi. With that said, it looks like Aso “The Asshole” Taro will be tipped to replace Abe as the new Prime Minister in the coming weeks…