L'Ombre de l'Olivier

The Shadow of the Olive Tree

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12 September 2007 Blog Home : September 2007 : Permalink

Abe Quits

Japan's prime minister Shinzo Abe has decided to quit and let someone else lead the LDP and the country. He says he quit because of his inability to get an anti-terror bill renewed in November. I suspect that is partially true, as are the other reasons given in many places - the series of corruption scandals that have enveoped his government and the election loss in July. However I supect the real reason is that, unlike his predecessor Koizumi, Abe has never had proper control of the LDP itself which has seen a return the factional infighting traditional is the years before Koizumi. Koizumi had such charisma that he could win elections having thrown his opponants out of the LDP but Abe never had the same touch and the party swiftly returned to its old ways. At the same time the Democratic Party of Japan, formed mostly by former LDPers kicked out by Koizumi, managed to paper over its cracks and present itself as a new party despite the fact that it is really just another wing of the LDP.

If the LDP have any decent strategists they will be calling for a lower house election and then expecting to lose it to the DPJ. The DPJ will probably have to govern in some sort of coalition and will almost certainly be as bad as the Abe LDP. Meanwhile the LDP could spend the opposition years pointing out that the DPJ is, in many ways, the unreformed LDP and also searching for another charismatic leader in the Koizumi mould. Done right this would allow the LDP to regain its support amongst those parts of Japan that have traditionally supported it - the countryside for example - and usher in another decade or so of LDP rule again, just as the brief non-LDP government in the mid 1990s did. It should be noted that the LDP's core voters, even people who have been members of the LDP for years such as my father-in-law, voted against the party at the last election for a number of reasons that included disgust at the perceived cynical behaviour of the LDP leadership with its cronyism as well as its inability to actually communicate what it was doing and why. I suspect many of these can be wooed back by a communicator once the opposition has a chance to show that it is no better than the LDP when it is in charge.

Unfortunately I doubt the LDP has this kind of long term thinking available to it so it will probably attempt to cling onto power for too long and permanently damage itself in the process. This, it seems to me, would be a pity because I have absolutely no confidence in the DPJ or any other Japanese political party doing anything other than maintaining the current (and IMO unsustainable) status quo. The problems that Japan faces - mostly fall out from the aging population and low birthrate - are going to need some fairly radical fixes and those can only be done by a charismatic leader such as Koizumi (no he wasn't perfect but he was popular and he had many good ideas abot how to fix things) and I don't see any of the current set of political leaders able to repeat the Koizumi role. In fact most are likely to reverse some of his reforms and led the country back into recession IMO.