Inada res­ig­na­tion adds to Abe’s woes

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - VIEWS -

Ja­panese De­fense Min­is­ter To­momi Inada re­signed on Fri­day fol­low­ing weeks of scan­dal that in­cluded the al­leged with­hold­ing of in­ter­nal doc­u­ments, es­pe­cially those on the daily ac­tiv­i­ties and safety con­di­tions of Ja­pan’s Ground Self-De­fense Force dur­ing its UN peace­keep­ing op­er­a­tions in South Su­dan.

Once Ja­panese Prime Min­is­ter Shinzo Abe’s protégé and a shin­ing fe­male mem­ber of the Ja­panese Cab­i­net, Inada re­signed days be­fore com­plet­ing one year in of­fice. For­eign Min­is­ter Fu­mio Kishida will now hold the ad­di­tional charge of the de­fense port­fo­lio un­til a new de­fense min­is­ter is ap­pointed.

Os­ten­si­bly, Inada’s in­volve­ment in the “cover-up” of the self-de­fense force’s ac­tiv­i­ties a year ago in South Su­dan, where the Ja­panese troops were barred from tak­ing part in peace­keep­ing op­er­a­tions un­less the war­ring par­ties de­clared a cease­fire, ended her ca­reer. How­ever, the daily ac­tiv­ity logs of Ja­pan’s Ground Self-De­fense Force sug­gest com­bat be­tween gov­ern­ment and rebel forces in South Su­dan in July 2016.

If con­firmed, the doc­u­ments could put a big ques­tion mark on the le­git­i­macy of Ja­pan’s over­seas peace­keep­ing op­er­a­tions. The Ja­panese De­fense Min­istry had said late last year that the data had been deleted, but it re­leased part of the in­for­ma­tion which was found on a com­puter in Fe­bru­ary.

Inada’s re­cent mis­steps oc­curred in the lead-up to the Tokyo metropoli­tan elec­tion that were held on July 2. She came un­der fire for ral­ly­ing sup­port for the rul­ing Lib­eral Demo­cratic Party, a move seen as the politi­ciza­tion of the Ground Self-De­fense Force and a vi­o­la­tion of Ja­pan’s Self-De­fense Forces Act. Not sur- pris­ingly, her gaffe dealt a blow to the LDP, which won only 23 seats in the 127-mem­ber cham­ber, an all-time low.

Al­though not unan­tic­i­pated, Inada’s res­ig­na­tion could add to the po­lit­i­cal woes of Ja­panese Prime Min­is­ter Shinzo Abe amid a string of po­lit­i­cal scan­dals and plum­met­ing sup­port rate, which has fallen be­low 30 per­cent in some polls, the low­est since he re­turned to power in 2012. Since the end of the Cold War, his pre­de­ces­sors with less than 30 per­cent pop­u­lar sup­port have all ended up stepping down within a year.

Abe’s per­sonal rap­port with Inada, an out­spo­ken po­lit­i­cal hawk, could no longer save her be­cause his own ca­reer is in trou­ble. Al­leged fa­voritism linked to a friend’s busi­ness and flawed dis­claimers in the face of solid ev­i­dence have un­der­mined pub­lic trust in him and his ad­min­is­tra­tion.

So Abe has to make ef­forts to pre­vent his ap­proval rat­ing, which is still above the “deadly” sin­gle-digit level, from dip­ping fur­ther if he wants to seek a third three-year term next year and re­main Ja­pan’s leader un­til 2021. And the planned reshuf­fle of the Cab­i­net and LDP lead­er­ship this week is very im­por­tant for Abe to re­gain pub­lic sup­port.

Of all the changes, the posts for For­eign Min­is­ter Fu­mio Kishida, and LDP heavy­weight and for­mer de­fense min­is­ter Shigeru Ishiba — also the front-run­ners for the LDP lead­er­ship — will be closely watched. Ishiba, who left the Cab­i­net to work out a strat­egy to re­place Abe when the lat­ter’s term as LDP pres­i­dent ex­pires in 2018, re­mains an un­known el­e­ment. But no mat­ter who gets ahead in the LDP lead­er­ship race, there is a risk that Abe will be forced to step aside by his party ri­vals if his sup­port rate drops to a level that threat­ens the LDP’s le­git­i­macy to rule.

Inada’s res­ig­na­tion could add to the po­lit­i­cal woes of Ja­panese Prime Min­is­ter Shinzo Abe amid a string of po­lit­i­cal scan­dals and plum­met­ing sup­port rate ...

The au­thor is an as­so­ci­ate re­searcher at the Ja­pan Stud­ies Cen­ter of the Chi­nese Acad­emy of So­cial Sciences.

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