Monday, September 10, 2007

Are Those an Arm and a Leg I See in the Seas Incarnadined? The Prime Minister Puts His Job on the Line.

The following are the main points of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's comments in the September 9 press conference [in Sydney, Australia, before his return to Japan].

(Opening statement) Japan, the US, and Australia held their first [trilateral] summit meeting, where the heads of the US and Australia expressed their high evaluation of and gratitude for Japan's contribution to the "War on Terror". On my side, I explained the [my? our?] will to continue the "War on Terror". I also explained it at the Japan-US summit meeting with President Bush. The Diet is in a very severe situation, but since this has become an international pledge, a big responsibility lies with me. I am determined that all efforts must be expended to continue the refueling activities of the Self-Defense Forces. I intend to put my job on the line in order to receive the understanding of the DPJ and other opposition parties.

Q. Are you submitting a revision bill that extends the counter-terrorism act, or are you submitting a new act from the beginning? Are you willing to hold a meeting of the party heads with the JPD and other opposition parties before submitting the bill?

A. We must submit a bill to continue refueling activities of the Self-Defense Forces and achieve its enactment. In submitting the bill, we must make the maximum effort to receive the understanding of the opposition parties, the DPJ in particular. For this purpose, I must seek their understanding by undertaking the matter with the thought of putting my job on the line. I would like to have the meeting of the heads with Representative (of the DPJ Ichiro) Ozawa as early as possible.

Q. You said, "put my job on the line." Are you prepared to have the Cabinet resign en masse if the continuation (of the refueling activities) is not able to be achieved?

A. What I said was that all efforts must be made to allow the continuation. Under my responsibility, the responsibilities of my office, I must fulfill the responsibilities of my office by expending every ounce of my powers. (He fell silent for a while, but interrupting the moderator, who tried to turn to the next questioner, "well then, next…") Obviously, I do not intend to cling to my seat of office.
- Translation from September 10 online Mainichi

Although many people in the LDP are trying to parse this statement as an expression of his determination rather than his willingness to resign his post or, worse, if improbably, dissolve the Lower House for a general election, figures like the Yoichi Masuzoe, the outspoken Health, Labor and Welfare Minister, and (even before Mr. Abe's earlier Sept. 8 statement) Yasuhiro Nakasone, the ex-Prime Minister, are openly pointing to or even demanding, in the case of Mr. Nakasone, such an outcome.

The ruling coalition is not going to let Prime Minister Abe go the electorate on this issue if they can help it, nor do I think will they let him eat his words and stay. The thought of a new Prime Minister makes rejecting a compromise that avoids a maximum two-month hiatus a little less delectable for the DPJ. Still., it's hard to see what kind of calculations went into the Prime Minister's September 9 statement.

Bereft of a political justification, the only bit of amateur psychology that I can come up with is something I (think I) went over before in this blog: A seasoned political reporter who had covered the Prime Minister for many years told me that Mr. Abe wanted to be Prime Minister once, to fulfill his deceased father's – unrequited desires in accordance with his mother's wishes, but did not want it for himself. If you can believe that, then it makes about as much sense in the current case as anything else


Anonymous said...

Jun, What, in your view, is "public opinion" on the issue of extending the Anti-Terrorism Measures Law? How much are Messrs Abe and Ozawa leading public opinion, how much are they being pushed by it? Interested in your views. T (P.S. did you see the Asahi Shimbun article on Koizumi's Children feeling the heat? The end of the year gets curiouser and curiouser).

Jun Okumura said...

T: The latest Yomiuri poll says that 29.3% support an extension, 38.8% oppose it, 28.6% can't call it one way or other, and 3.2% gave no answer to the question. (It's a multi-question poll.) The composite Japanese appears to be somewhat disinterested, though inclined to oppose. I'm reasonably sure that an Asahi poll would show a somewhat higher level of opposition. I think that this means that, in terms of electoral politics, an extension isn't a make-or-break issue for the ruling coalition, or the DPJ and Mr. Ozawa, for that matter. Given that little is likely to happen between now and November 1 to change popular perception of the issue, I believe that public opinion will continue to inform, but not push, the principals. Besides, doesn't it all boil down to a max 2-month logistics gap that must be filled in until the coalition passes a new bill in the Lower House supermajority revote? My guess – now to say that I'm often wrong is something of an understatement – is that there will be an utterly predictable outcry over "wanton exercise of the power of the majority", but with major segments of the media behind an extension, I do not think the coalition will be damaged in electoral terms.

Things are a little more complicated for Mr. Abe. Because of his horrible leadership issues, he will be hurt by the inability to achieve an extension by November 1. The LDP leadership has been doing some damage control to see if he can stay on in the case of a revote, which almost surely means that the deadline will not have been met. I'm very skeptical about his chances, though you have been warned. (See previous paragraph, last sentence.)

As for the Koizumi Children, Tobias Harris writes about it here, and I've made some comments there. I trust you will find it all useful, if you haven't read the blog already.

Anonymous said...

It seems as if the lack of leadership skills and a complete lack of charisma have trumped Prime Minister Abe's overall general knowledge of foreign affairs and international relations building.

I am certainly no expert on Japanese politics, but I really thought from Day 1 that the lack of charisma would cost Abe, and now it has. I am not saying that Ozawa has any more charisma. From what I've seen so far, Ozawa seems little more than a disgruntled rhino, but he has been effective in that role. Leadership, on the other hand, is more than making sure you have all of your cohorts in line. You have to make it all look believable.

Anyway, that's my two-yens' worth. Thanks for the well-written article.

Jun Okumura said...

Tobias Harris is always readable, thoughtful, and prolific. He usually relates his subject of the day to the big picture, which in my view sometimes causes overreach. Still, it's much better than being too gnomish, like I often am.

Mr. Abe essentially got there by standing with the Yokotas looking quietly serious. But when you're out there in public view 24/7, you have to do something to maintain that je ne sais quoi that we call charisma. It works the other way around too. I think most people remember Anwar Sadat as a man of understated dignity and quiet determination rather than the colorless, unthreatening non-entity that had been unexpectedly thrust into the klieglights. As you say, you have to make it all look believable.