Fri, Aug 03, 2007 - Page 8 News List

Abe fails to fill predecessor's shoes

By Tsai Zheng-jia 蔡增家

The Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) was badly defeated in last Sunday's elections for Japan's upper house.

People have come to different conclusions about the reasons for this loss. Some believe that Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was tired after dealing with the many scandals that have engulfed his government, and was unable to campaign well. Others say the problem was the scandal over pension fund records -- many Japanese worried that their retirement savings had been lost and people started to doubt the LPD's crisis management abilities.

Others believe that Abe's inability to maintain the reform policies of his predecessor Junichiro Koizumi, especially concerning consumption taxes, made people doubt his leadership abilities, and begin to believe that Koizumi had placed his confidence in the wrong person.

But I think the most important reason for the LDP's defeat was that Koizumi wasn't there.

Why do I say this? After all, under Abe Japan has experienced an economic growth rate of 2.2 percent, and an unemployment rate of 4 percent, an obvious improvement over Koizumi's tenure, when the growth rate was 1 percent and the unemployment rate 5.4 percent.

The ethical problems that have occurred in Abe's government are only minor when compared with the political scandals during Koizumi's era caused by Koichi Kato, Muneo Suzuki and others.

Lastly, the way Abe handled things when pension records were lost was much better than how Tsutumo Tabeke, the minister of agriculture under Koizumi, handled the problem of mad cow disease.

But the difference is that during Koizumi's time in office, he only needed to hoist the flag and shout slogans about making Japan a normal country, and as far as the Japanese were concerned, such minor problems were no longer an issue.

So why is it that the kind of problems that would have been seen as unimportant under Koizumi have pushed Abe's government close to the edge?

The most important reason is that the Japanese are tired of just hearing slogans about normalizing the country. They are like someone who was injured and then sedated, who only realizes how much they hurt after they wake up.

Abe is an excellent successor to Koizumi, and has faithfully continued his predecessor's policy of normalizing the country. But he is not Koizumi. He doesn't have Koizumi's charisma, and that's why even though he is continuing Koizumi's policies, Abe's support rate has been steadily plunging ever since he took office.

Another reason is that Abe is not deified by the Japanese people like Koizumi was. Abe first thought that to save the LDP he just needed to implement Koizumi's plans and ideas for normalizing the country, amend Article Nine of the Constitution and upgrade the Defense Agency to Ministry of Defense and the Self-Defense Forces to Self-Defense Army.

But he discovered that the Japanese didn't really pay attention to issues so far removed from their everyday life; they care more about their economic circumstances. Only then did Abe realize that Koizumi had attained a god-like status in the hearts of the Japanese, that it was not possible to replace him, and that it was not just his hair or his "Koizumi style" looks that made Koizumi who he was.

The final reason is that Japanese society tends to be very obedient to authority, where the collective good is more important than the individual. The country needs a politician with strong leadership and charisma to lead it. Even if such a leader only uses slogans, to the Japanese this slogan will seem like a huge lighthouse rising out of the sea to lead their ship through stormy waters.

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