Japan needs Abenomics, with or without the man The voters’ priority is the economy and it should be Prime Minister Abe’s as well
The plunge in Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s opinion poll ratings was sudden but not surprising. In the past five weeks, the Prime Minister’s approval rating has slumped from above 50 per cent to 34 per cent, throwing both his own future and that of his economic programme - known as Abenomics - into con- fusion. But Abenomics must continue, with Abe or without.
His fall from grace has little to do with the economy, which is performing well. Rather, it reflects a pair of disastrously similar scandals. In one case a private school operator called Moritomo Gakuen bought discounted public land. In another, an operator called Kake Gakuen got a licence to open a new veterinary school in a special economic zone. Both com- panies are linked to Abe. There are signs that officials acted, perhaps unprompted, to please the boss. tential collusion between the campaign and Moscow. The publicist offered to set up a meeting with a Moscow lawyer who could provide information that would ‘incriminate’ Hillary. ‘I love it’, Don Jr replied about the pro- posal. Six days later, Don Jr, Jared Kushner, the President’s son-in-law, and Paul Manafort, the then campaign manager, met the lawyer, Na- talia Veselnitskaya, in New York. Lawyers for the Agalarovs said the purpose of the meeting was not connected to the campaign. The elder Agalarov said the Goldstone emails were ‘all made up’.
Rogers said Don Jr should have been very cautious after he received the email offering him information from a foreign government. “That should have set off every red flag. You would hope they would say ‘I can’t take that kind of meeting’ and picked up the phone and called the FBI,” he said.
In Paris for Bastille Day celebrations, Trump said Don Jr was a ‘wonderful young man’ who had taken the kind of meeting that ‘most people in politics probably would have taken’.
The controversy has intensified the spotlight ‘Get them out the way’ on the prominent roles played by his family members, despite their lack of obvious qual- ifications in government or political life. The
These scandals have badly undermined public trust in Abe. He denies any direct in- volvement, but as Prime Minister he is re- sponsible for his government’s actions, and his dismissive response to questions has given the impression that he does not see any problem. In both cases, there should be full and transparent accounting of how the deci- sions were made. That is what the public is demanding.
Assuming no outright corruption comes to light, Abe has the difficult task of rebuilding public trust before standing for re-election next autumn. There are two ways he could try to do this. One is a radical reshuffle of his Cab- inet and a shift away from Abenomics, sig- nalling change. Another is to redouble his efforts on the economy - and only on the economy - signalling determination. This lat- ter course is the right one. revelation of emails to Don Jr (39), came just days after the incredulity at the G20 summit in Hamburg when the President let Ivanka Trump, now a White House aide, replace him at the table.
The image of Ivanka sitting next to China’s President Xi Jinping angered those who say the White House is being run by a dynastic group of novices. Kushner, Ivanka’s husband and also a White House aide with a sprawling portfolio that includes China, Middle East peace talks and reinventing government, was present at the now-infamous meeting in June last year with the Russian lawyer.
Bill Flores, a Republican congressman, this week urged Trump to push his family aside. “I wish that he would get them out of the way so that we could have professional staff at the White House handle policy issues,” he told a Texas television station.
The revelations about Don Jr have turned attention back to Trump’s attitude towards Russia. The President had just returned from the G20 where, after spending 135 minutes with Russian President Vladimir Putin, he de- clared that it was ‘time to move forward’ with Russia - the inference being that Washington should stop fixating on allegations that the Kremlin meddled in the US election.
Trump has been unable to shake suspi- cions about his relationship with Russia that
Abe has prospered as Prime Minister for more than four years because he offers eco- nomic promise. It is true that wages have were sparked during the campaign when he refused to criticise Putin. Even after the US in- telligence community concluded that the Kremlin had orchestrated cyber attacks to help Trump, he has refused to categorically accept that view. During the campaign Trump denied the existence of any connections be- tween his aides and Russia. When Democrats suggested that Moscow was behind the hack- ing of Hillary campaign emails, Don Jr de- scribed the claim as ‘disgusting’.
The emails are a reminder of Trump’s un- usual associations with Russia, most notably through the 2013 Miss Universe pageant. People involved in the event say the Agalarovs wanted to promote Emin’s singing career. Contestants spent much of the three weeks before the event at their Moscow estate and some appeared in another of Emin’s music videos alongside Trump.
“We were all laughing about how easy life would be if you had a dad who could buy you the [world’s] second-most watched TV event to try and make you famous,” said Olivia Wells, who competed as Miss Australia.
Trump spent less than 24 hours in Moscow for the event, where he went to a dinner at- tended by Sberbank chief executive Herman Gref and filmed his video cameo. He then at- tended an after-party with the top-placed contestants from the pageant. “He looked like risen little. But Japan’s public can feel the tighter jobs market, hear the confidence of business, and see the rise in stock prices. They may not love the low interest rate conse- quences of massive Bank of Japan stimulus, but it easily beats the years of stagnation.
Where Abe has gone wrong is turning away from the economy to focus on issues of constitution and foreign affairs. They matter greatly to him but little to the average voter.
A 2015 security bill and a conspiracy law this summer both hurt him in the polls. Now he has vowed to revise Japan’s constitution by 2020. The revision he wants is perfectly rea- sonable, but an extremely low priority on any objective list of issues facing the country.
Instead, Abe should focus on prosperity, and not in the cosmetic way that marked past revamps of Abenomics. That means reap- pointing Haruhiko Kuroda as governor of the Bank of Japan or, if Kuroda is not willing, choosing a candidate just as determined to end deflation.
It also means resisting demands to raise taxes while inflation is still weak. And while the importance of structural reform is over- stated, serious changes to the labour market are needed, not just a crowd-pleasing effort to end long working hours for the salaryman.
The end of the Abe era is in sight. Some- times, it seems that Abe only cares about eco- nomic policy as a way to win power. He must recognise that his legacy does not depend on a minor constitutional reform. It will rest, in- stead, on whether he was the man who ended two decades of deflation.
The greatest service Abe can now perform is to persuade his party and his public that Abenomics must continue, even after his time in power has come to a close.