News flash - See my latest post for the exclamation point has put on his first year in office.
Today is the first anniversary of Abe Shinzo's second stint as prime minister of Japan. There will be a plethora of articles looking at the past year (Link - J) assessing the Abe Administration’s efforts are regards stimulating economic growth and improving Japan’s security. A lot of the assessments will likely judge the prime minister's and the Cabinet's performance as encouraging but with many major goals unmet. Many will detect a loss of focus on the part of the government, a sudden fascination with security matters supplanting what was an internationally popular transformation (one hesitates to say reform) plan.
However, by any reasonable standard, the first year of the Abe Administration, Version 2.0, has been insanely successful. Perhaps not for the country, but certainly for him, his party and the industries and interest groups that sought to back his return. Abe is in robust health, both physically and in terms of his Cabinet support ratings. He is hitting his main policy targets largely according to his time line. Now admittedly, that may not be difficult for a prime minister backed up by commanding ruling coalition majorities in both House of the Diet. However, Abe was in the same political position during the first ten months of his last, calamitous stint in office. He and his unmerry Friends of Shinzo cabinet of that time could not take a step without bogged down in a myriad scandals and sour note recitations and retractions of revisionist claptrap. The current Cabinet marches forward, despite being chock-a-block with potential rivals for control of the ruling party.
If any group has reason to be upset with the prime minister, it is the xenophobic black-shirt, contorted windbag revisionist fellow traveller cohort of which he is supposedly the avatar. Abe has not visited Yasukuni; he has not repudiated any part of the Kono or Murayama Statements; he has not attempted to crush the Teacher's Union or force misleading textbooks on students; he has spoken out against the anti-Korean Zaitokukai demonstrators; he has been solicitous, even complimentary toward Chinese and South Korean leaders who have been demonstrating their unfitness for high office by their repeated rhetorical slaps to Abe's and Japan's face. Abe has shrugged off the insults and taken his paranoid base for granted -- a double-cross of the misguided hyperpatriots which, to be fair, he alone of major politicians had the potential to perform.
Not all is perfect in the House of Abe, of course. His government's inability to compile an even marginally coherent and/or convincing package of Third Arrow economic reforms has the international investment class suspecting that no such package will ever be forthcoming. The passage by force of numbers of the Special Secrets Protection Act, without public support (the more the public knew about the contents of the Act, the less it liked it) fanned into flames what were only smoldering embers of civic opposition to Abe’s multi-faceted revolution.
A lot of folks would rather have someone else as PM, someone with fewer risks of being sidetracked on pet projects or undone by prickly pride. However, as compared to the annual tumble and stumble into ignominy of prime ministers since Koizumi Jun'ichiro (Abe provided the template for this roller coaster ride into unpopularity during his term in office in 2006-07) the stability we have seen so far is Abe's response to the slings and arrows of his critics.
Abe Shinzo after one year is on course, in command and tremendously sure of himself. A lot folks, your truly included, would have told you in December last year that such an outcome was unlikely in the extreme, if not indeed impossible.
East Asia’s economic agreement
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