Friday, June 22, 2007

What grades will Abe bring home at term's end?

So the Diet session that was due to end this week has been extended an extra twelve days.

In a press conference on Friday, Prime Minister Abe tried to dispel reports of dissent within the LDP on the question of extending the session — there has been a steady drumbeat of stories in the major dailies on vocal opposition to the plan — and insisted that the extension is for the good of the nation.

Meanwhile, he suggested that the people not think about the delay in the Upper House elections in "technical" terms. (I assume that's what he would call this, eh MTC?)

An article in this week's Economist actually spells out the mood fairly well. Some nine months into the Abe administration, it's hard to enumerate exactly what this government has achieved that it can present to voters. The national referendum bill? Just like the opinion polls consistently showed, constitution revision is unimportant to voters, especially when compared with, say, pensions and health care (shocking, I know, that such matters would be important to a rapidly aging society). Extending the JSDF mission in Iraq? As argued in this post at Glocom's blog, it is unclear that the Japanese people are especially aware of the facts surrounding the mission in Iraq. The loophole-ridden political funds control law revision? The looming amakudari bill?

For a government bolstered by an unprecedentedly large majority, that is a tremendously meager legislative record, and when you add in the return of the postal rebels to the LDP, the backtracking on the highway funds reform, inappropriate statements by cabinet ministers, coddling by the prime minister of cabinet ministers accused of corruption, and continuing diplomatic isolation in the six-party talks, it is hard to see upon what the Abe Cabinet can campaign. The good fortune of governing at the same time as a growing economy? I guess that's the plan.

Meanwhile, this Diet extension has the unmistakable air of an undergraduate's asking for an extension on a paper the night before the due date — even though the date was clearly marked on the syllabus months before. (I had the stomach flu! It was that burger George gave me at Camp David!) Now Abe is scrambling to cobble together some legislative achievements to fling at the voters.

Teacher — his governing majority — may be generous, but will mom and pop (aka the Japanese voters), worried about making ends meet, be quite so willing to continue supporting Junior's "education" with so little to show for it?

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