On August 3 of this year, Prime Minister of Japan Shinzo Abe orchestrated another “reformatting” of the Cabinet of Ministers, the inevitability of which experts had predicted two or three months earlier, when there was a noticeable trend towards the plummeting of the level of confidence in the premier and his government.
The leading opposition parties are uniting efforts to continue unleashing two scandals. One of them relates to suspicions in the participation of the wife of the premier Akih in a transaction dealing in the sale at a staggering price of a public land plot run by a private educational company for the construction of an elementary school.
The second (which has given rise to the “favoritism” memo in the journalistic community) was caused by the exposure of the Prime Minister linked to the appointment of a “friend” of his to the post of Director of a higher educational institution. However, the double blow that sent the government of Shinzo Abe to a knockdown was, naturally, unintentionally spearheaded by Defense Minister Tomomi Inada.
This fact, by the way, has been manifested by the strange mysticism accompanying the entire political career of Mr. Abe, one of the most successful Japanese statesmen of the past decades, which we have already noted earlier. His first premiership (2006-2007) ended one year after he assumed office, also as a result of a series of scandals, of which the final was related to a woman (Yuriko Koike), the-then Minister of Defense.
Tarō Inada was first “exposed” to the blunder involving a public appeal to the employees of the Ministry of Defense and the soldiers of the Self-Defense Forces to vote for the candidates from the ruling Liberal Democratic Party in the parliamentary elections of the prefecture of Tokyo held on July the 2nd.
Then Shinzo Abe did not fire her, despite the insistent demands of the opposition. But then flared up the scandal (which had been slowly smoldering until that point) with the cover-up of the journals of the daily service of the contingent of the ground forces of Japan, which were located in South Sudan in 2016 under the UN mandate.
This scandal then acquired an extremely unpleasant political color. For there was a suspicion that the journal records might contain a description of incidents involving the use of weapons, which is de facto prohibited by the current Constitution. And this would mean that the government simply did not have the right, even under the UN mandate, to send a Japanese military unit to the area of the unfinished military conflict.
Then on July 30, Tomomi Inada resigned. This does not mean the end of the incident with the “lost” records itself. This will be separately considered at a special meeting of the parliamentary commission.
However, the final point on the need to “reformat” the government was still the cause for the devastating defeat of the LDP at the aforementioned parliamentary elections in Tokyo, in which the Tokyo-First party, formed only one year ago by the very Yuriko Koike, the truly fatal woman in the political career of Shinzo Abe, won a decisive victory.
We note here that this defeat has been the second political knockdown in the last year that Y. Koike has caused to her former boss. The first one took place in the summer of 2016, when she was no less persuasive in the gubernatorial elections in the prefecture of capital.
A key element in the entire process of changing the composition of the government has been the reappointment of (now former) foreign minister Fumio Kishida to the very important party position of Head of LDP Policy Council. In this way, Shinzo Abe essentially identified his potential successor as president of the party he currently leads.
The new Head of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan is Tarō Kōno, son of the former (in the early 1990s) Minister of Foreign Affairs, Yōhei Kōno. And experts have immediately noticed this remarkable kinship. For, it was Yōhei Kōno who in 1993 for the first time publicly apologized to the Koreans in connection with the so-called “comfort women problem” repeatedly discussed in the NEO of the period of occupation of the Korean peninsula.
So far, it is said that in this issue, Tarō Kōno is holding a position that does not coincide with the views of his father, and this may become a problem in relations with South Korea, where the new leadership is also inclined to reconsider the “final” bilateral agreement of December 2015 on the “comfort women” theme.
Tarō Kōno graduated from the American Georgetown University and is believed to be a proponent of strengthening ties with the US. However, in China, the appointment of Tarō Kōno has been seen as a positive signal in terms of the development of the emerging trend towards improving relations between Tokyo and Beijing. Here, they relate the new minister to the LDP wing that adheres to more “moderate views” in respect of the PRC.
The departed Tomomi Inada has now been replaced by Itsunori Onodera as Minister of Defense of Japan. Onodera has been essentially running that office for almost two years (since December 2012). Taro Aso and Yoshihide Suga have remained at the two key posts of Vice-Premier and Minister of Finance as well as Secretary General of the Cabinet of Ministers.
The first public opinion polls after the “reformatting” of the Cabinet of Ministers demonstrated a dramatic increase in public confidence in the new composition of the government headed by Shinzo Abe, which fell to an unprecedentedly low of 26% at the end of July. According to the newspaper Mainichi Shimbun, by 3 August, it had immediately increased by 9%. A phone poll conducted on the following day by the leading news agency Kyodo News showed that the support of the new government had already shot to 44, 4%.
So far, everything looks like a successful operation to remove a dangerous metastasis by an experienced surgeon. And the political organism, which is the somewhat modified government headed by the same prime minister, has immediately responded positively.
It can be assumed that the issue of the possible early resignation of Shinzo Abe, which has been hanging in recent months, will lose its urgency. However, the prospect of achieving the main objective of the entire political career of the current prime minister of amending the “anti-war” Article 9 of the Constitution is becoming blurred. This is because the losses of the original (about 70%) popularity of the government of Shinzo Abe remain noticeable.
In this regard, the prospect of the dissolution of the lower house of parliament (to which the premier has the constitutional right) and the announcement of early elections that are “scheduled” to take place at the end of next year are two issues that are being discussed. Shinzo Abe could resort to this measure to achieve a credible victory for his party, which could be presented as an expression of the confidence of the country’s population in him.
Experts, however, are of the opinion that such a (hypothetical) way of confirming popularity is fraught with serious risks for Shinzo Abe, taking into account all the negative factors that have accompanied his cabinet in the last six months. Equally persuasive (as at the end of 2012), the victory of his LDP is far from assured today, and it is possible to lose the current two-thirds majority in parliament, which is necessary to trigger the constitutional amendment procedure.
It should also be noted that, despite the increase in ratings, the crisis of confidence in the government of Shinzo Abe has not been completely overcome. The opposition is determined, and anything can happen during the parliamentary hearings on the issues discussed above. The outcome of the upcoming local elections in several districts will act as the interim verification of the degree of success in the eyes of the electorate of the measures to change the composition of the government.
Finally, once again, we repeat what we have repeatedly noted: “The price of the question” of the fate of the political career of Mr. Abe is very high and goes far beyond the national framework. This is a question of the prospect of a constitutional reorganization of one of the leading powers of the Asia-Pacific region, of which a specific “historical memory” remains in China and both Koreas.
Vladimir Terekhov, expert on the issues of the Asia-Pacific region, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook.”