Japan: Prime Minister Abe Steps Down

After less than a year in office, with approval ratings dropping to record lows after a recent humiliating upper house election defeat, and facing increasingly vocal opposition even from within his own party, Japanese Prime Minister Abe Shinzo finally took the step many had been demanding on Wednesday and declared his intention to resign. Only days earlier, Abe had promised to step down if he did not receive support for legislation to extend Japanese anti-terrorism operations in Afghanistan [Ja], a promise which never ended up being put to the test. The abruptness of the decision, which appears to have been news to everybody but Abe's closest supporters, brought the beleaguered prime minister yet more criticism [Ja], and for the most part his move doesn't seem to have gone down very well with bloggers either. Meanwhile, the mystery of the resignation has already deepened with news of Abe's subsequent hospitalization and rumors that he may have quit in advance of yet another scandal.

The timing of Abe's resignation was a surprise to fellow LDP member and blogger Yamauchi Koichi, who argues that:


If he was going to quit, then it would have been better to quit after the Upper House elections,
to quit right after the opening of Diet sessions means that the leadership election cannot be carried out calmly.
The next prime minister will be chosen behind closed doors, and that must be avoided by all means.
Although it is desirable to have an open leadership election, including a vote by party members,
the opening of Diet sessions is a difficult time to do this.

Former Diet member and Ambassador to Lebanon Amaki Naoto, a vocal opponent of the Abe administration, wrote in his blog on the day of the resignation:

Up until I heard Prime Minister Abe's press briefing, I was worrying about him. To quit at a time like this is really not normal. I was thinking that he must have been driven nearly to the point of committing suicide, that he might not even be able to show up to the press briefing, things like that.

But then when I saw a smiling Prime Minister Abe come out and repeat his cryptic words, I thought, this is really an incompetent person who can't be saved. Even at this final stage, he ran away from answering questions. There is no sympathy for him any more. All of the responsibility rests with Prime Minister Abe.

[Note: for reasons of copyright, the original Japanese text is not included but can be found here.]

Frustration about Abe leaving before he could face questioning was felt by many. Blogger A.K.I. writes:


It's somehow very unfortunate. Just when we thought the new prime minister once again dug himself a grave and we were about to press him with questions, he pronounces that that he intends to resign.


In the end, it seems to me that he didn't have the resolve; the resolve to carry a clear vision on his shoulders and fight even though he made mistakes. This expression “beautiful country” is vague, and I guess he probably was staking something on those words, but this was too ambiguous to call a “vision”. In the eyes of citizens who had become accustomed to Koizumi's performances, it came off as pretty childish.


However to lay everything on the line and ditch his job right after getting stinging criticisms hurled at him, I've never heard of anything like this. The curtains have fallen for this unprepared young man from a well-to-do family, but was there any “beauty” in it? I was hoping at least that he would die for the catch copy [*] that he himself had chosen.
Departure from the post-war regime was a topic that he spoke about a lot, it seems. But he never properly transmitted in concrete terms what was he aiming at. What is the post-war regime and why do we have to depart from it, in the end I still don't understand.

[catch copy: in copywriting, large text that appears in ads or brochures to catch the reader's attention]

Many bloggers felt that they didn't understand what Abe had been trying to do. One blogger responded this way:




The decision was too late.

I'm not sure if he planned the timing of his resignation, but…

In the end, what was Abe trying to do anyway?

Blogger Gucchi shared this feeling, drawing a comparison with former Prime Minister Koizumi Junichiro:


Koizumi was someone who persisted in his beliefs both in a good and bad way, so for somebody who was looking at him, there was a sense in which he was easy to understand. But in the case of Abe, right up until the very end, I could never understand what it was that he wanted to do.

Interestingly, however, this feeling was not shared universally. Hakushi No Hitorigoto, a popular Japanese blogger, writes that:


Prime Minster Abe's term in office lasted less than one year, broken recklessly with an abrupt end. In terms of results, however, this young prime minister acted responsibly and brought courage, and in a certain sense, in contrast to the bad apples, he showed the citizens of this country the seedy patterns [that conceal] anti-Japanese schemes in certain countries. It was certainly a short term, but, with the achievement record of numerous votes on legislative bills, the lessons learned by conscious citizens was also great.


From here on, in building this country, where should we direct our attention, and what should we struggle against? The young prime minister had sketched for us a direction toward the kind of country we should aim at building. This prime minister appeared like a comet and then vanished, but this is not to say that he died. I look forward to him recuperating his strength and making another attempt at politics, and to the day when he will bring the hope of common decency and strength. I wish him the best of health.

Blogger untitle agreed:


There are a lot of criticisms, but there is also talk that he was in a bad state of health. I'd like to say to Prime Minister Abe, thanks very much for your work.

Finally, Abe's promise about anti-terror legislation in Afghanistan sparked some bloggers to ask about his sense of responsibility. Blogger Maeda Kouichi writes about Abe's declaration at the APEC summit in Sydney, echoing the thoughts of many:


Prime Minister Abe declared that: “If American warships in the Indian Ocean cannot be refueled, then I will quit my position as prime minister.” If he had said that he would take responsibility and quit if the pension funds problem could not be settled, then I would understand. Even as the dishonesty of this appointed prime minister was rapidly being uncovered, and although the idea of trying to take responsibility never crossed his mind, he was ready to take responsibility and quit if it became impossible to provide refueling services to the American army. It has become clear that Abe is not a prime minister who takes responsibility for the Japanese people, he is a prime minister who takes responsibility for the U.S. military.


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