Monday, September 10, 2007

Ready or not...

The special session of the Diet is officially opened.

Prime Minister Abe, opening the session today, claims to have reflected deeply upon the results of the July's Upper House elections and recognizes that there are many who wish to see him gone, but for all that humility, it's entirely unclear whether he has actually learned anything. The LDP rank-and-file may have learned something. The new officials at the head of the party and the cabinet may have learned something. But has Abe Shinzo actually learned from his "deep reflection" on his party's colossal defeat in July?

As usual, he was, as MTC notes, long on ideals, short on vision. Recognizing one factor in the July defeat, Prime Minister Abe acknowledged that the government's countermeasures for the pain of reform "have been insufficient." But there are few signs as to how Mr. Abe plans to ease the pain of the people, solve the inequality problem, shrink Japan's national debt, and continue down the road of reform, all while overcoming opposition from within the LDP and working (or not) with the opposition.

As I've argued before, I think Mr. Abe's problem is that he doesn't particularly like politics. He loves being a statesman — he loves standing before the people, declaiming about national problems and Japan's destiny in the twenty-first century. But when it comes down to the messy compromises that are a necessary part of democratic politics everywhere, Mr. Abe loses interest.

So for all his heartfelt idealism, it's all so much hot air, because he has no conception of how to realize his abstract aims.

Now, a leader trusted by the people can get away with being short on the details — this to some extent explains Mr. Koizumi's success. But Mr. Abe does not have the trust of the people. "Trust me" is not an option. The lack of trust, especially following the revelation of the missing pensions records, has crippled Mr. Abe's cabinet, and there are no signs that the Japanese people are about to become more trusting of the prime minister. Even worse, he continues to lack the confidence of his own party, the latest blow being the response of some LDP officials to Mr. Abe's pronouncement in Sydney that he is staking his premiership on the passage of the anti-terror enabling law in one form or another.

President Bush has, I think, run into the same problem: when you fail again and again, "trust me" doesn't work. In the aftermath of 9/11, I think the American people decided to trust Mr. Bush — but now it's six years later and the people have learned better.

So here we go. The final months of the Abe premiership? The resurrection of the LDP's fortunes, with or without Mr. Abe? The final struggle before the DPJ takes the Lower House?

2 comments:

Bryce said...

Koizumi was a LOT shrewder than Abe, even if he was light on details. He realised fairly early on that you cannot alienate the factions in the LDP without appealing to your supporters in the public and public opinion in general. Abe has neither sucked up to the factions (until the last cabinet reshuffle, at least) nor managed his public image.

Andrew Oplas said...

Interesting take on Abe about him preferring statesmanship over everyday politics. I would add comments off the record from Japanese press that the Prime Minister's office and his official secretary are much weaker in controlling personnel information than Koizumi's was. This is one possible explanation for the continuing drip of scandals and mini-scandals, though of course ultimate responsibility for the Office is Abe's.

I totally disagree about comparing Abe to Bush on the trust issue. Bush is a strong leader who has lost credibility because of a fickle electorate and a left-wing media. This is not about Bush's failures (of which it is far too early to judge).
Abe is a weak leader who has lost credibility with a reasonable electorate.