Faced with ris­ing op­po­si­tion forces, Abe’s fu­ture looks un­cer­tain

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - VIEWS - The au­thor is China Daily Tokyo bureau chief. cai­hong@chi­nadaily.com.cn

Ja­pan’s political land­scape is not ex­pected to sta­bi­lize to suit Prime Min­is­ter Shinzo Abe’s style of pol­i­tics de­spite the Cabi­net reshuf­fle on Aug 3. Sup­port for his ad­min­is­tra­tion is not con­stant, al­though ap­proval rat­ings have risen slightly.

Abe is be­com­ing in­creas­ingly un­pop­u­lar for his al­leged in­volve­ment in scan­dals and his high-handed ap­proach to im­por­tant is­sues such as se­cu­rity-re­lated leg­is­la­tion. While the Cabi­net reshuf­fle has brought him some re­lief, big trou­bles re­main. He is still em­broiled in con­tro­versy for al­legedly pres­sur­iz­ing the Min­istry of Ed­u­ca­tion to al­low his friend Ko­taro Kake to open a new vet­eri­nary school. Most of the peo­ple in Ja­pan say Abe has not yet fully ex­plained the is­sue in par­lia­ment.

The Min­istry of De­fense, un­der To­momi Inada who re­signed a week be­fore Abe reshuf­fled the Cabi­net, cov­ered up Ja­pan Ground Self-De­fense Force’s ac­tiv­i­ties dur­ing a United Na­tions peace­keep­ing mis­sion in South Su­dan. The two houses of par­lia­ment held only ad hoc hear­ings on the scan­dal on Thurs­day as de­manded by the op­po­si­tion.

When his ap­proval rat­ings reached a record high early this year, Abe was cer­tain of lead­ing the rul­ing Lib­eral Demo­cratic Party well be­yond 2020. But with his rat­ing dip­ping since then, some LDP law­mak­ers are revving up for the party’s lead­er­ship elec­tion in Septem­ber 2018.

For­mer Ja­panese de­fense min­is­ter Shigeru Ishiba, who has openly crit­i­cized the Abe ad­min­is­tra­tion, has hinted he could con­test the LDP’s top post. Fu­mio Kishida re­signed as for­eign min­is­ter to be­come the LDP’s pol­icy chief, in an ap­par­ent move to pre­pare for the lead­er­ship elec­tion. Shortly af­ter be­ing ap­pointed in­ter­nal affairs min­is­ter, Seiko Noda had said she is ready to take on Abe for the LDP leader’s post. Noda had dis­tanced her­self from Abe af­ter her bid to win the LDP lead­er­ship elec­tion in 2015 failed.

Ja­pan’s political land­scape is not ex­pected to sta­bi­lize to suit Prime Min­is­ter Shinzo Abe’s style of pol­i­tics de­spite the Cabi­net reshuf­fle on Aug 3.

The LDP has been dom­i­nat­ing Ja­panese pol­i­tics thanks to the weak op­po­si­tion camp, which has failed to cap­i­tal­ize on the nose­div­ing sup­port for the Abe ad­min­is­tra­tion. How­ever, new political un­der­cur­rents may be strong enough to bother Abe and the LDP.

Goshi Hosono, a mem­ber of the lower house of par­lia­ment and for­mer deputy pres­i­dent of the Demo­cratic Party of Ja­pan, has quit the largest op­po­si­tion party and is plan­ning to float a new party. He is ex­plor­ing var­i­ous pos­si­bil­i­ties, in­clud­ing work­ing with pop­u­lar Tokyo Gov­er­nor Yuriko Koike. The fledg­ing Tomin First no Kai, or Toky­oites First Party, which Koike ef­fec­tively heads, dealt a crush­ing blow to the LDP and DPJ in the cap­i­tal’s assem­bly elec­tion in July.

In a Nikkei Shim­bun sur­vey on who should be Ja­pan’s prime min­is­ter, Koike ranked third, only be­hind Abe and for­mer prime min­is­ter Ju­nichiro Koizumi’s son, Shin­jiro Koizumi. Al­though Koike has brushed off spec­u­la­tions that she is in­ter­ested in Ja­pan’s high­est of­fice, a mem­ber of the lower house and Koike pro­tégé, Masaru Wakasa, said on Mon­day that he has launched Ja­pan First, a so­ci­ety which aims to train peo­ple in­ter­ested in con­test­ing elec­tions in the fu­ture. Wakasa was ex­pelled from the LDP for sup­port­ing Koike in the Tokyo gov­er­nor’s elec­tion last year.

Now an in­de­pen­dent, Wakasa in­tends to estab­lish a political party, us­ing the Ja­pan First so­ci­ety as its train­ing base. And Koike is sched­uled to de­liver a lec­ture at the so­ci­ety’s first meet­ing on Sept 16.

The Toky­oites First Party’s big win has given Wakasa and other like-minded peo­ple hope for chang­ing Ja­pan’s political dy­nam­ics. The new party could be an al­ter­na­tive choice for the pub­lic, which is un­happy with the Abe ad­min­is­tra­tion and the ex­ist­ing op­po­si­tion par­ties. Some non­af­fil­i­ated law­mak­ers and DPJ mem­bers are said to be in touch with the Ja­pan First so­ci­ety.

But be­fore the new op­po­si­tion forces gain ground, Abe could call a snap elec­tion, per­haps later this year. In an in­ter­view with the Nikkei Shim­bun in Jan­uary, LDP Sec­re­tary­Gen­eral Toshi­hiro Nikai said: “The suc­ces­sor to Prime Min­is­ter Shinzo Abe can­not be any­body but him­self.”

The fu­ture of Abe does not seem to be so sure now.

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