Ja­pan needs Abe­nomics, with or with­out the man The vot­ers’ pri­or­ity is the econ­omy and it should be Prime Min­is­ter Abe’s as well

Muscat Daily - - BUSINESS -

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.

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