Sunday, December 17, 2006

Seasoned Pro Says Insiders think Abe Is Doing a Good Job, But Isn't Getting Credit for It. But Can the Opposition Take Advantage?

It is early in the week, the deals have been cut, and a seasoned pro is holding forth on the Abe administration. Though an insider, it is a small gathering of friendly faces, a relaxed setting, and he appears relatively free of the need to spin, or so it seemed to me. But then, do they

According to Seasoned Pro, the consensus among the insiders is that the Abe administration has been doing a good job so far. It elevated the Self-Defense Agency to a full-rank ministry, and amended the Education Basic Law, both the kind of heavy-duty legislation double that is rarely, if ever, achieved in a short, extraordinary Diet session (to choose a new prime minister). Moreover, it not only managed to maintain the temporary rate hike on the volatile oil tax (much to the chagrin of the automobile industry), but also moved a bit of that road money into the general budget, something the Great Master Koizumi could do. And he hasn’t even mentioned the Beijing-Seoul junket yet. The problem is in perception (and the Town Hall yarase (rigging) debacle cannot be totally laid at the feet of this administration), but it doesn’t help that Mr. Abe has none of that Koizumi flair for the eye-catching sound bite.

Perhaps. And this view is compatible with my contention (mainly articulated over the Narrative of the Eleven Penitents) that Mr. Abe has let the media dictate public perception, while giving them good reasons to turn against him. But, even those successes could (I’m tempted to say “will”, but I’ll defer this much to a veteran from the ternches) come to haunt him in the long—run; if his education reform package fails to address the fundamental cause of the deterioration of the public school system, and the rest of the road money fails to make its way elsewhere, be it the general budget or back in the pockets of the motorists, disillusionment will set in for good.

But for the time being, working in his favor is the economy, which continues to go through a long boomlet. This means that tax returns are soaring; next year, banks will finally dig themselves out of that deficit hole and start paying corporate income taxes again. Among other things, he can kick along the consumption tax question, hopefully beyond next year's Upper House general election.

How will these and other issues stack up as the DPJ reassembles its battered troops and prepares its challenge for the 2007 Upper House general election? The one sure bet is that barring a major scandal that hits Mr. Abe personally, and the coalition manages to maintain a joint majority, he will serve out the first three-year term.

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