Friday, November 3, 2006

The perils of being noncommittal

As I discussed here and here, Abe Shinzo has been extremely reluctant to present anything that resembles a detailed agenda for his cabinet.

During his first month, it seemed that the Japanese people were prepared to give him the benefit of the doubt that sooner or later he would present a detailed program that they could support. It seems that the honeymoon is over. As this Yomiuri Shimbun article reports (article in Japanese), a recent Yomiuri poll has found that 63% of respondents found Abe's foreign and domestic policies "difficult to understand," while only 31% found them "easy to understand." The "hard to understand" number was particularly high among independent voters. The poll found that voters are particularly unclear about Abe's "Beautiful Country" concept, although as with the other figures, understanding was higher among LDP supporters than non-supporters.

The poll's findings are not particularly surprising. In a democracy, once the campaign is over and the prime minister (or president or governor or legislator) begins governing, citizens will notice if the elected official fails to make the transition from "campaignese" -- long on "wills," "shoulds" and "oughts" -- to the somber, realistic language of governance.

So this poll doesn't have any particular long-term significance, but it does show that Abe cannot drift through the next eight months and hope that voters won't notice the lack of results when they vote in the upper house elections.

He will actually have to govern, at some point, and governing means risking public disapproval.

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