Wednesday, August 23, 2006

"Who Is Shinzo Abe?" Chapter 1. A Man of Contrasts

Shinzo Abe is a politician of contrasts. In the more powerful Lower House of the Japanese Diet, He represents a district in Yamaguchi, a prefecture that has produced, since the Meiji Era, an extraordinarily large percentage of prime ministers and other members of the political leadership in Japan; yet he grew up, went to school, and lived in Tokyo (which has elected exactly one prime minister to the Diet) till he left his day job to enter politics. He is a faithful member of what is now the largest LDP faction, that is likely for the third time in a row to claim the premiership, yet his appeal cuts across faction lines, party lines, even; a mass phenomenon that puzzles many who follow the political scene.


Just where all that appeal comes from is, indeed, a complicated question. In another of his contrasts, Mr. Abe is a perceived as a staunch nationalist/hawk in a nation with distinctly pacifist cast (one that many people, and not just his opponents, believe he is trying to alter.) His early, steadfast advocacy of the Japanese hostages and their families against North Korea and the exposure that it gave him are often cited as the main cause. But even as the Deputy Cabinet Chief, he seems to have caught none of the flak that hit Mr. Hitoshi Tanaka, career diplomat and the chief architect of the Japanese attempt at rapprochement with North Korea, and, to a lesser degree, Mr. Koizumi himself, as the Koizumi administration belatedly realized the devastating effect North Korea’s revelations had on the Japanese public.


Similarly, as LDP Secretary-General, Mr. Abe’s one prominent leadership role so far in his career, he presided over an LDP loss in the 2004 Upper House election, yet this has not hurt him all in the eyes of the public, or within the LDP. Indeed, his support is swelling with the legions of LDP candidates who hope to ride his coattails, come the elections.


At 51, Mr. Abe is younger than his challengers, certainly very young for a Japanese prime minister. Tall and well built, his boyish looks, soft eyes, and full shock of hair, all reminiscent of his long-deceased, would-be-premier father, are the envy of most other politicians. Surely this must be a big reason for his popularity with women. Yet his almost jowly visage, the many creases that line it, the powerful eyebrows; they are clearly those of an older man.


A much older man, really, for they remind everyone that Mr. Abe is the grandson of the staunchly conservative, nationalist Kishi Nobusuke, whose political career spanned the pre- and post-WW II, including a stint as prime minister, whose greatest accomplishment was the revision of the Japan-US Mutual Security Treaty. Then there was Mr. Kishi’s brother Eisaku Sato, the longest-serving prime minister in Japanese history and the recipient of a Nobel Peace Prize.


But I’m getting ahead of my story. Yes. A man of contrasts, this Shinzo Abe. So well known, so popular, and all but anointed prime minister; yet so little is known of where he is coming from., what he is going to do. So I read his new book “美しい国へ(Towards A Beautiful Nation)” to find out. I think I learned more than I’d expected. Over the coming weeks, from time to time, I intend to explore the book, an extended book review in you will, on this blog. I also reserve the right to amend this entry if my evolving thoughts so dictate.


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