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:
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:
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:
Interestingly, however, this feeling was not shared universally. Hakushi No Hitorigoto, a popular Japanese blogger, writes that:
Blogger untitle agreed:
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:
At least in Japan they resign, in Tanzania, and Africa at large, the word “resign” is a nightmare no politician wants to go through. We have leaders who, come what may, they wont do what the PM has done. African leaders needs to look East.
However, the PM should have resigned earlier.