Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Though it pales...

...in comparison with the events of yesterday, this morning's The Asahi Shimbun 's report on its weekend telephone polling results brings more tidings of woe for the Abe Cabinet.

Though the 42% disapproval rating for the Cabinet is a shade below the top rating in the dark days of early March, the 36% approval rating is the lowest approval number for the Cabinet since its inception. The 8 point drop from only a week ago (May 19-20) is just stunning and matches similar collapses in the Nikkei and Mainichi approval ratings.

I wish I could point to a single root cause for the sudden collapse in the approval ratings. However, I find myself at a loss. Could it be the announcement Friday of multiple launches of short range missiles by the DPRK? Perhaps...but would not the effect be opposite the one observed, of the populace rallying around Abe for his steely resolve against the "mad" regime of the North?

The only reason for the fall seems to be the softness of support for the Cabinet's policies. The spinmeisters and their dupes in the commentariat have been pushing the line that the steady rise in the approval numbers since the end of April has been the result of public joy at Abe's astute diplomacy and his government's steadfast passage of the legislation intent on enabling the PM's political program. I do not doubt that a certain percentage of the population has responded positively to the government's actions. A larger fraction, it seems responds with delight to the government's inactions--when the government manages to not screw up something simple but important. Hosting Wen Jiabao without incident or humiliation...ushering Shinzō and Akie through Washington without either of them contracting foot-in-mouth disease (I would like to say something positive about the Mideast tour--but it seems to have been a footnote in the public consciousness)...

Achieving these soft goals may have thrilled a section of the non-aligned vote that had been wondering whether or not the PM and his crew could do anything right.

A rise in popularity built upon low expectations is likely to be volatile, however. Tellingly, both the Mainichi and the Asahi have found a rise in potential support for the DPJ over the last week in direct correlation with a fall in enthusiasm for the LDP.

How the suicide of MAFF Minister Matsuoka Toshikatsu will play into this broader movement is difficult to say. Some segment of the population will feel sorry for the man, despite the crude selfishness of even his final act of contrition. The opposition has lost its poster boy of institutionalized corruption in the Cabinet so some of the steam has probably escaped from their scandal-fueled kane to seiji ("Money and Politics") electoral express. On the other hand, questions about how Abe could have selected such a creature as Matsuoka are still pertinent--and the opposition will likely pound away on the subject after the passage of a decent interval.

Then again, the country may just put the whole episode behind it. As the NHK announcers last night stated in a matter-of-fact aside amidst their morose coverage, Matsuoka's death just ahead of the minimal day limit set by law means that Matsuoka's open seat in Kumamoto will be contested in a special election held together with the House of Councillors election on July 22.

Sic transit sine gloria

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