Thursday, August 02, 2007

What are we going to do about Shinzo?

A strategic and tactical conundrum.

1) The rank and file of the LDP selected Abe Shinzō as party president in late 2006 on the assumption that Abe was the candidate most likely to lead the party to electoral victory. Abe's main rival, former Foreign Minister Fukuda Yasuo dropped out of the leadership race early when LDP members voiced strong doubts about the public responding positively to the selection of a man of 70 as party leader.

Now that Abe has failed to lead the party to victory in this past election, the raison d'être of the Abe party presidency has evaporated for many LDP members, particularly for the 81 freshmen representatives (the so-called "Koizumi Children") elected in the September 2005 House of Representatives landslide. LDP members in tight electoral races are thinking of how they will survive Abe's leadership, not how they will ride his coattails to reelection.

2) The steep decline of the prime minister's and the LDP's popularity ratings began not with the pensions debacle or even the money scandals and verbal gaffes of the various members of the Cabinet. It began with the readmittance of 11 former LDP members Koizumi Junichiro had expelled from the LDP in August 2005 over their opposition to the reform of the Post Office. The public disliked Abe's reversal of the previous prime minister's main political program and resented the repudiation of the public's will as expressed in the results of the 2005 election. Readmitting the 11 "exiles" made sense to the members of the LDP leadership because they thought the 11 would provide crucial campaign support to certain LDP candidates in the 2007 House of Councillors election.

In the end, the move proved to be a fiasco. The readmitted exiles had little influence on the vote in the districts they were supposed to deliver to the LDP, and the stigma of “politics without principle” sunk the LDP all over the country.

From what has gone on in the first 10 months of his tenure, Abe apparently has no interest in or plans for the rural-urban divide, either for or against. He has no concept of the role of the state in the economy, feeling only that it should be sympathetic toward 30 year olds with dodgy work histories and companies with dodgy credit histories. His main contribution to Japanese diplomacy--the non-act of not visiting Yasukuni Shrine--could be accomplished just as competently by a tree or fire extinguisher ("Good Morning. This just in: Abe Shinzō, prime minister of Japan, still has not gone to Yasukuni.") He has not the slightest understanding of the United States outside of what can be experienced in four star hotel lobbies. His understanding of Asian countries has even less depth. As for the Japanese people, he has no particular love for them, especially after what happened on Sunday.

So what is the benefit of having Abe Shinzō carry on--for members of the LDP, that is?


The French Reader said...

As far as I remember, in 2002, the same question was raised about Koizumi-san, who became very, very unpopular after sacking Makiko Tanaka. Of course, there was no big election that year, and Koizumi-san was already starting to think about big economic reforms, such as the privatization of the Japan Highway, and big projects, such as paying a visit to Kim Jong-Il.
--Abe should do the same, for sure. But at the time, the real question was: "Who could replace Koizumi?". And the answer, for many Japanese, was: "Nobody". So, who could replace Abe-san by now? Aso-san? Tanigaki-san? Fukuda-san? Koizumi-san? Tony Blair? Hmmm... If I were Abe, I would: 1. Reshuffle my team very quickly (if there are still good people willing to work with him!); 2. Put big, popular reforms on the table; 3. Stop talking about a Beautiful Japan, as the Japanese showed no particular interest in this 19th century's old German-romantic-nationalist rhetoric so far; 4. Weaken the DPJ by attacking its contradictory policies and even nominate some of its members in the new government (Divide to rule! President Sarkozy of France is doing that and it works!); 5. Listen more to the Japanese people; 6. Understand that this is the 21st century, ergo, invest more time in communication and PR!
But I’m not Abe-san, an aristocrat who would rather like to reshuffle the Japanese people itself than his own government.
Ps: We missed you, Shisaku!

Edith said...

Abe serves a very important purpose. He is there because no one else wants to be and he is a splendid distraction from a discussion of the real issues. He is the Alberto Gonzales of Japan.

Delighted by your return. The cretins at Antampon were ceasing to amuse.

Ken said...

Edith, it never fails to amuse!

But seriously, it's great to see posts up here again (I had almost stopped checking).

To me, one of the largest strides forward is simply the fact that there now is a dialog based around who is fit to be the next PM. A decade ago it simply would not have mattered. Whoever was next would be next, the faction head kingpin-makers would give their decision, and that would be it.

Now, while it's good for democracy that such a dialog is taking place, it's deeply saddening that there isn't at least someone in the government that could be viewed as an adequate for Prime Minister (hopefully Takenaka's thinking about 2009...).

I don't think, however, that the lack of an apparent heir to the PM position should be allowed as a reasonable excuse for putting off a Lower House election.