Just an Abe-rration?

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has abruptly resigned, after only a little over a year in office:

Abe, who had just recently resisted calls for his ouster and vowed to carry out his reform program, said he was stepping down to achieve a breakthrough in the stalled political situation. But the timing of his announcement raised more questions about what was going on in the political world.

“I made the decision because I felt that a new prime minister should continue the fight against terrorism,” the prime minister told a news conference.

Abe said it was his responsibility–as well as an international promise–to pass legislation in the current Diet session to continue the Maritime Self-Defense Force’s mission in the Indian Ocean refueling ships of the multinational force fighting terror in Afghanistan.

The special measures law that allows the MSDF to operate in the Indian Ocean expires on Nov. 1. Opposition parties have made clear they could not support an extension of the mission.

Considering the way his predecessor Junichiro Koizumi was able to gain immense political capital from facing down the old guard of his party in the 2005 general election, and before that persuade the Diet to allow Japanese troops to be deployed into a combat zone for the first time since 1945, Abe’s early exit will be particularly humiliating, especially as he had staked his political reputation on contiuing Koizumi’s post-9/11 special measures law. But there could be more here. After this summer’s disastrous results for the LDP in the upper house elections, the opposition Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) seems in the ascendant. Abe’s twin political projects have been to instill patriotism in the education system and make Japan a “normal country” with a military able to act unconstrained by Article 9 of the Constitution. He could have thought that extending the MSDF’s mission in the Indian Ocean was something important enough to sacrifice himself for. Or, it could be about a possible forthcoming election:

The DPJ was pushing for a general election, which we all knew the LDP would have a hard time winning.  The question now is to what extent Abe stole the DPJ’s thunder by stepping down, acting as a lightning rod and taking the DPJ best ammo down with him.  Is a general election now more or less likely?

(via CA) Then again, it could be that after a series of scandals involving several ministers, Abe knew that his was a lame-duck administration and felt that the political situation really had reached stalemate. Japan could be heading back to the weak prime minister model that had been the status quo for years before Koizumi broke the mold. Now, as it looks like xenophobic and gaffe-prone Foreign Minister Taro Aso might take over, it seems Koizumi didn’t break the mold so much as scrape some of it off.


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