Tuesday, 20 February 2007

The Abe issue

The Daily Yomiuri has, once a month, a readers’ write-in thing where they propose a theme and your average punter can write in and let loose their thoughts. Recently they have had such things as ‘what more can Japan do to encourage eco-friendliness in others so we don’t have to?’; ‘Just how many nukes should we drop on Krazy Kim’s People Mart?’; and a personal favourite ‘What avenues of whining should Japan now explore in an attempt to get a permanent seat on the UNSC?’. This month’s question is a little different, however. If memory served it is something like ‘Why has new-ish PM Shinzo Abe’s popularity gone down the tubes?’

Now I have thought long and hard about this over the past few minutes and I must admit to being at something of a loss. This might strike you as strange, but it is so. The reason I am at a loss might, however, also be the reason his popularity has gone down the tubes, as I can’t think of anything that Shizo has done since he became PM, so much so that I still can’t think of a decent, or indeed any, nickname for him, which I find just a little bit depressing.

So, he came to power after the Kool Kid Koizumi collected his P45 in September last year and, as far as I can remember, really hasn’t done anything. It almost seems as if Japan has gone to sleep with him at the helm. Reading through the archives of this blog, as I am wont to do on occasion when bored, I have come across posts about Krazy Kim, about dodgy architects, scandals a-plenty, succession issues, Yasukuni, takeovers and makeovers and all sorts of other things that happened with, to and by the Kid (read back, you’ll find them all in there (somewhere)), but since the autumn I really can’t think of too much that has gone on. OK, there was the cabinet minister that said women were essentially ‘birthing machines’ and that they were failing in their duty – he threatened to resign but Abe wouldn’t let him. That was interesting for about a day, but that’s about it.

It’s almost as if John Major has decided that being the most dull and boring politico in Britain wasn’t enough so he thought he’d branch out and give another legislature a go. But maybe, and here possibly is the point of all this, the Kool Kid has actually done what all politicians want to do but generally fail in the attempt: he changed the game (here in Japan), changed the political landscape. Recast the mindset of ‘the people’ (whoever we/they are). Redefined what it is to be a politico in Japan. Reinvented. Shifted. No longer are ‘the people’ going to be happy with a faceless, humourless, unmemorable grey suit. Now, because of the Kid, perhaps people want politicos who try and do stuff, who have opinions, who try to change the way things work (or don’t work), who say things like ‘oops, might have bungled that one a tad’ and who have, (shudder) some passion for the job.

The thing with the Kid was that he polarized opinion, he really was, it seems to me, either loved or hated. Now that might seem strange if you are reading this in the UK or US (or elsewhere, but I don’t know much about the politics of that country) as political parties, and political issues, often have the effect of polarizing opinion, but here in Japan consensus has often been the order of the day. This is perhaps because Japan has essentially had one political party in power since 1945 (the good ‘ole Liberal Democratic party, who are neither liberal nor democratic, natch) and also because harmony is/was paramount – in this sense harmony means collusion between big business and big politics to ensure people are told what to do and then do it, sort of like Stalin or Hitler’s command economy but with smiles, nicer cars and no gulags. But the Kid, with acts like going postal (privatizing the postal savings system), being principled (kicking out the dissenters in the party) and having the balls to fight (his back me or sack me the country at the last election, and they backed him), maybe something changed in Japanese politics which has, perhaps quite unexpectedly, changed something in the electorate.

So when Silent Shinzo (how about that one?) comes along, expecting everyone to slip back into their late-90s political acquiescence, he may be feeling just a tad miffed that people are asking him questions and expecting (as if?!) answers and action. I think there may be a lot of head scratching going on the Strip OL Shabu-shabu joints of Shinjuku as the old guard, the ones who breathed a sigh of relief when the Kid was as good as his word and retired in September, try and figure out how they can run a damned country with a lame duck PM and an increasingly irritating tendency from ‘the people’ to ask questions they shouldn’t and expect something approaching a reasonable, or at least reasonably believable but not necessarily true, answer.

Or I might be wrong, maybe they just don’t like his ugly mug, but I’d like to think that there’s a bit more to it than that.

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