10.03.2016 Author: Vladimir Terehov

Pre-election Scandals Surrounding Shinzo Abe

564564545Some kind of bad luck is haunting the current Prime Minister and leader of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), Shinzo Abe, who is, without a doubt, one of the most prominent Japanese political figures of the past decades.

This unfathomable demon periodically loosens the tongues of the politicians surrounding Abe, forcing them (it is more often for no apparent reason) to “make gaffes” about important topics and issues. This resonates accordingly both domestically and abroad with tragic consequences for the Prime Minister.

The problem of politicians connected with Abe and the LDP not being able to keep their mouths shut is becoming particularly serious at a time when the country is preparing for the upcoming midterm elections to the upper house of parliament, the outcome of which could significantly impact the development of the general picture not only in Japan, but also in its surrounding political arena.

The most recent gaffe was made by the (now ex) member of the Constitutional Committee of the upper house of parliament for the Liberal Democratic Party, Katsuya Maruyama. More on that later however, as it is now pertinent to recall that “loose tongues that are worse than a pistol” played an ominous and prominent role as early as Abe’s first premiership (2006-2007), who was then the youngest and most promising politician in the highest executive post in Japan.

On June 30, 2007 the head of the Ministry of Defense (the recently renamed former Defense Agency), Fumio Kyuma, announced that the US atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki “helped bring the war to a close and prevented Soviet Union from capturing Japan.”

In general, he did not say anything new as far as the expert community is concerned. This point of view (at the level of well-reasoned analysis) is wholly deserving of discussion. At the very least it is when taking into account the intention of certain members of the military circles of then Japan to wage war “until the last Japanese man standing.”

However, in public affairs it’s necessary to take heed of both the rational and emotional side of the average man who went on to demand that F. Kyuma immediately resign. And, despite the Prime Minister’s pleas (most probably, it would seem, formal) not to have knee-jerk reactions, a week later F. Kyuma resigned from his post.

This scandal came hot on the heels on an incident with a tragic outcome, that had occurred just one month earlier (May 28, 2007), involving the Minister of Agriculture, Toshikatsu Matsuoka. The latter was accused of financial wrongdoings (in particular, expenditures on a geisha) and an hour before the parliamentary hearings on the issue hanged himself in his apartment.

In the end, after the new Minister of Defense, Yuriko Koike, (the first woman to hold this post), took responsibility for the leak of secret information and resigned on August 25, 2007 (a mere six weeks after her appointment), Abe dissolved his first government and stepped down from the post of prime minister.

The press then reported that the chain of negative blunders that had occurred in the government in the three summer months of 2007, had led to Abe having a nervous breakdown and that a weighty cross had been put on the rising star of the Japanese political elite: right up until September 2012, when he again took leadership of the LDP and three months later led the party to triumph in the early elections to the lower house of parliament.

His current three-year premiership favourably compares with the previous six-year reshuffle, when the subsequent prime minister held the highest office for less than a year. During his leadership, the government began to radiate energy and purpose, especially in the economic sector. The LDP led by Abe won two subsequent parliamentary election cycles (2013 and 2014) with almost the same brilliance.

But, it happened again. Has on February 17 of this year the aforementioned K. Maruyama put his foot in discussion about American democracy publicly (and incomprehensibly as to why)? He said little, but what he did say was significant: “The US currently has a black president. He is black in origin, therefore he is a descendant of slaves”.

No comments and awkward silence in the ranks of the LDP, and snide palm rubbing in the opposition camp. From the subsequent clarifications of the scandal-monger, it was understood that he had wanted, at best, to praise the American social and political system. Which has evolved in such a positive way, that it turns out that the country is currently headed by a descendant of slaves.

It didn’t help. Anyway, it turned out to be, to use a popular slang term, “a royal screw-up,” which had to be fixed at a cost, apparently, of the end of his political career.

The awkwardness of the situation that arose as a result of K. Murayama’s public revelations on the specific features of the Japanese government’s key ally, was worsened by their very untimely nature. The fact is, that on the same day (February 17), the press reported the potential visit of Barack Obama to Hiroshima and Nagasaki during the next summit of G-7, which this time is to be held in Japan on May 26-27, 2016.

It would be the first time in post-war history that the president of the United States visited a memorial to all those killed in the atomic bombing of Japan, committed at the end of the Pacific War. It would be Obama’s response to the long-standing calls from the citizens of Hiroshima and Nagasaki: “We do not expect any apologies. We will be glad to see you here. Come and simply stand in silence with us.”

It’s easy to say, for such action by the President of the United States would be a direct challenge to the comfortable state, which the average American continues to live with in terms of evaluating the acts committed by his country in August 1945. So far, the intuitive feeling (hidden away deep in the subcortex) of something terrible and unfair has been prevented from surfacing by the very same rational arguments. It is only since 2010 that the US ambassadors to Japan began attending the annual ritual of remembrance of those killed in the Hiroshima atomic bombing.

But it isn’t easy for the US president to make such a decision, and if Obama embarks on such a trip, it will be one of the most significant acts of his 8-year tenure as head of a leading world power. There is every hope that the future accomplishment of the symbolic act that is extremely important for relations between the peoples of the United States and Japan will not be affected by K. Maruyama’s preposterous “ideas.”

Which were just another straw on the camel’s back of corruption scandals and verbal “blunders,” initiated by Abe’s supporters.

Of these, among the most notable was the accusation of corruption made in late January of this year against cabinet minister Akira Amari, who was responsible for negotiating with partners in the Trans-Pacific Partnership. This casts a shadow on Japan’s participation in this project, which, on top of everything else, is waiting for the complicated procedure of being passed in parliament.

Verbal “blunders” on the topic of “comfort women” during the war in the Pacific, which is extremely sensitive for South Korea, were let slip by the potential ally of the LDP in the upcoming elections, Toru Hashimoto. The phrase “you’d better get married and have children,” was directed at the role modern women play in politics and daily life when the MP from the LDP used it to address a female colleague during the discussion of a particular issue.

This generally good wish for a particular young woman, which could be linked with problem No. 1 in modern Japan, comprises its ageing population and population decline.

It, however, does not take into account one of the main components of the current international political mainstream, which is determined by the strange term “gender equality.” For which the maxim’s user was called out for by the top officials of the party and forced to apologize for outright “sexism”.

Maybe the “blunders are made” only by male politicians, the generally rude and uncouth folk? Alas, Abe has been dreadfully unlucky with female politicians (since the days of his first premiership).

Following the aforementioned mainstream idea, he introduced a few ladies, who were pleasant in all respects, into the final line-up of the government, two of which were accused of corruption after only 2-3 months. Discussion of the environment minister (and former TV journalist), Tamayo Marukawa on the topic of radiation levels in the vicinity of the damaged nuclear power plant, “Fukushima-1”, provided the opposition parliamentarians with no small amount of mirth.

In more peaceful times, all these “costs” of political life would not have meant much. However, as noted above, crucial mid-term elections to the upper house of parliament lay ahead this summer, during which Abe and the ruling Liberal Democratic Party intend to win two-thirds of the seats, without which it is impossible to set out on implementing long-planned constitutional reforms. Primarily, in the defense and security sectors.

But the newly united opposition are literally “churning everything up,” not passing up the slightest opportunity to cast a shadow on the competence of the current ruling political forces. In the context of the escalating economic problems in Japan (as evidenced by the preliminary results of 2015 Abe’s prospects of achieving his aims in the upcoming elections are becoming increasingly dim.

Vladimir Terekhov, expert on the issues of the Asia-Pacific region, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.

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