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Japan’s Choice for Post-Abe Era: Continued Stability or Fundamental Reform

  1. Abrupt resignation of PM Shinzo Abe


    On August 17, 5:00pm PM Shinzo Abe made an abrupt announcement that he will resign as prime minister.  It was reported that his health condition has not been good since July. And since he visited Keio University hospital on August 17 for 7.5 hours and on 24 for 3.5 hours. there has been a rumor that something serious may have been happening 

with Mr.Abe.


   At his press conference for the first time since last several weeks, he explained that his ulcer colon was found active again. Since he feels that he may not be able to perform the job of prime minister at his best to respond to the trust of the public, he decided by himself to resign at this point. 


   He said that leaving the job is heart-breaking without accomplishing some of important tasks such as solving the issue of kidnapping by North Korea, peace treaty with Russia, and amendment of Japan’s constitution.


2.  A brief review of accomplishments of Abe administration


   Let me first point to two positive accomplishments out of many which can be evaluated positively.


   One is the fact that Abe administration lasted long and gained positive evaluation both in and out of Japan as “stable” administration. Mr. Abe 

changed the image of very unstable administration of Japan for the first 

decade of 21st century when Japan had 6 prime ministers, each did not last much more than a year.


  Another accomplishment is his economic policy package known commonly by “Abenomics.” Abenomics consists of 3 arrows: (1)monetary policy aiming at realizing 2% inflation, (2) fiscal policy which intends to accomplish both growth and fiscal reconstruction and (3) growth strategy. Abenomics looks systematic and comprehensive economic policy package so that it called forth attention both domestically and internationally.


  Abe administration launched Abenomics immediately after the outset of the administration, namely, early spring of 2013. The outcomes of Abenomics, when evaluated after 7 years, are mixed. Monetary policy which deployed a massive quantitative easing was unable to attain moderate on-going inflation of 2% as 

Intended. Fiscal policy failed to improve fiscal reconstruction, and growth strategy

was not quite able to promote economic growth as planned.


   However, it is true that after the outset of Abenomics, stock prices increased remarkably which gave a certain confidence to economic community. And the fact

that for the period of Abe administration of 7 years the economy grew even at a modest rate of around 1% a year, despite very low potential growth capacity of Japanese economy and the dreadful negative impact by COVID19 infection, can be evaluated positively.


3.  A brief review of problems of Abe administration


   Let me then point to two negative problems associated with Abe administration.

   One is repeated scandals which reveal the undesirable nature of Abe administration

of insufficient or even lack of disclosure of information. A couple of typical scandals of this nature are imprinted in the minds of people. They are often called “Mori・Kake problems.” Both are schools: one was given a large subsidy which cannot be justified by fiscal rules. Another is given permission of establishing new department which cannot by justified by rules of allocation of schools. Chairpersons of both schools are “friends”of Mr. Abe. 


   In order to cover up the process of implicit or disguised permission by prime minister’s office, the internal documents have been falsified. And a local officer

of ministry of finance in charge of documents committed suicide. But the whole process has been covered up and the truth has never been disclosed. There have been

several cases of scandals which all covered up the truth. Such scandals left an image on the public of non transparency and the lack of disclosure of Abe administration.


   Another negative problem is associated with “Abe singular power system(Abe Ikkyo).”

This means that Mr.Abe has an outstanding power in Japanese politics. This is not the problem of Mr. Abe himself. He has been working very hard to win elections and has kept winning all the elections after the outset of the administration. Working hard to win elections is a common nature of any politicians. In this sense Mr. Abe should be praised rather than to be blamed.


 The formation of de facto Abe’s extra-ordinary dominance is also a derived consequence of introduction of small electoral constituency system which was introduced in 1994 with an intention to make change of party In power easier after a long dominance of LDP. Since one party can send only one candidate to a constituency, this system enpowered  prime minister’s office remarkably which can officially nominate candidates. Abe administration made use of this system skillfully to maximize its political power.


   The fact that Mr.Shinzo Abe is regarded as an outstandingly powerful leader makes many people and organizations simply obedient to Abe administration and Mr. Abe.

They include particularly politicians, political factions, bureaucrats and government offices, and businesses. In this system, minority views tend increasingly not heard.

This makes Japanese politics lose flexibility and openness, and this tendency extends to governments, business and society itself. Japan as a whole tends to be sick and loses

openness and vitality. This is the most serious symptoms, consequences and problems

arising from “Abe Ikkyo system.”


4. Candidates for LDP presidential election


  Within a few days after Mr.Abe’s announcement of resignation, five candidates have emerged.  Mr. Shigeru Ishiba, ex-secretary general of LDP, Mr. Fumio Kishida, Chairperson of policy coordination and ex-minister of foreign affairs showed their strong interest to join the race. Mr. Taro Kono has shown his keen interest but dropped out after having been strongly advised no to do by Mr.Taro Aso, the chair of Aso faction to which Mr.Kono belongs. Mr. Yoshihide Suga, chief cabinet officer,  has been anticipated by many to run for the office but not shown his will for a few more days.


5. The method of election


   Soon after the announcement of Mr.Abe’s resignation, a few executive members of LDP led by Mr.Toshihiro Nikai, Secretary General of LDP. and consulted the method of

election. They have been inclined to opt for not a normal style of election but a contracted form of election by the general meeting of Diet members of House of Commons and House of Councilors.


   Normally, the election of president of LDP is conducted by 394(current number)

Diet members and the same number of local LDP members. However, the executive members led by Mr. NIkai strongly recommended to resort to an abbreviated  form of election by 394 Diet members plus 141 local members comprising of 3 representatives for each local municipalities. 


   There has been increasingly strong opposition against this abbreviated form of election largely by young Diet members. At the extended Diet member meeting, there was a heated debate among the members. Those who assert the normal election including 394 local members argue that with the support of larger number of local LDP members the newly leader will have a larger support of the public. 


   However, executive members of LDP turned down such opposition on the ground that

the election this time is not executed at normal time but is conducted at an abnormal time of resignation of prime minister before the end of his term. And since it has to be executed under the pressing condition of COVID19 infections, time constraint is so severe that we should not allow for political vacuum.


   This argument, however, has two defects. One is that there would not be much difference between the two methods. Both cases, the LDP headquarter has to use

postal mail to ask local members to register and also to send their vote back to the LDP office.  Were there time difference, it would be at most a few days. A few day difference would not be long enough to justify the adoption of abbreviated form of election.  The 

other is that PM Abe said clearly at the press conference that he will resign formally after witnessing the birth of the next prime minister. In other words there would be no

political vacuum since prime minister is still in charge.


   To me it seems that the true intention of the executive members lies somewhere else.

That is, they insist to adopt the abbreviated form of election in order to limit the participation of local LDP members, and limit the time for debate for election, thereby provide less opportunities to the candidates who have opposing views against Abe administration, most notably, Mr. Shigeru Ishiba.


6.  Participation of Mr.Yoshihide Suga and land slide of political factions


   Mr. Yoshihida Suga made a formal declaration to participate the race for president of LDP in the evening of Sept.2. Immediately after his declaration, political factions except one for Ishiba and for KIshida announced one after another to support Mr. Suga. This looked almost as if political land slide has taken place. Eventually 5 major factions:

Hosoda, Asou, Takeshita, Nikai and Ishihara, joined this avalanche. This is relatively unique phenomenon in presidential election of LDP.  This is particularly so because 

Mr.Suga does not lead or belong to any such political faction. Why this phenomena

took place? Before thinking about it, let me explain a bit about who Mr. Suga is like.


7. Who is Mr.Yoshihide Suga?

   Mr. Suga, currently age 71,  has been the closest and powerful supporter of Mr. Shinzo Abe and his administration all through.  He was born as son of farming family in Akita prefecture. After graduating from high-school, he came to Tokyo. He made his 

living working at cardboard factory for a while which was monotonous and disappointing. He began to think politics is important, and got a job as rank-and-file

assistant of a politician,  Mr.Okonogi, who later became minister of international trade and industry. After working for Mr.Okonogi’s office for 11 years, he became a member of city assembly of Yokohama at age 37. At age 47, he won the election to become a member of House of Commons. As a politician, he is a very late starter.


   He worked hard to assist influential politicians and finally arrived at Mr. Shinzo Abe

who trusted Mr. Suga. When Mr. Abe became prime minister in September 2006, Mr.

Suga was assigned a job as minister of general affairs of the first cabinet of Mr. Abe.

 This cabinet did not last long, however.  Mr.Abe had to resign only a year later due to worsening of his chronic disease, ulcer colon. 


   After stepping down of Abe administration, Democratic Party of Japan took the office of prime minister. This is the historic change of power from LDP which has monopolized 

governing power more than half a century to DPJ. However, since DPJ politicians have had no experience in running the country, DPJ administration made many mistakes and

every time they made mistakes they changed prime minister. In fact DPJ nominated 

3 prime ministers in 3 years. LDP has been seeking an opportunity to regain the power



  In this process, Mr. Suga kept supporting the mentally wounded Mr. Abe, kept encouraging and assisted effectively for Mr. Abe to rise up again to challenge 

prime ministership against the then Noda administration of Democratic Party of Japan. Mr Abe won the fight and took the office of prime minister at the end of 2012. Mr.Suga took the role of chief secretary of cabinet and ever since he kept the position during the rest of Abe administration.


   As the cabinet secretary he took care of most any issues the cabinet is faced across and beyond the boundary of ministries. With his careful and well prepared paving the way of politics and policy formation, Mr. Abe was able to maximize his potential to lead 

the country and also work effectively in international political arena. Mr. Suga controlled personnel matters of government offices so that he gained the power as well as trust by government officers thanks to his good care of them. It is perhaps no too much to say that Abe administration is in effect largely run by Mr.Yoshihide Suga.


8. Rationale? of band-wagon of political factions


  Under these circumstances, it may be rational for many major political factions all join to support Mr.Suga as a candidate for prime minister. This is because Suga administration, if it realizes, will mot likely be a copy of Abe administration. Mr. Suga

knows best of policies and politics of Abe administration because it is Mr. Suga himself who has been preparing and executing all this of Abe administration.


   Most politicians except outright contenders against Mr. Abe are those who have enjoyed the merits of following the Abe dominance system for the last 8 years. It is perhaps natural for them to keep enjoying their vested interest associated with 

Abe administration. For them, keeping the status quo may be the best. Change may be scarely because they may lose the merits they have been enjoying up to now.


9. We need to choose the leader who can change the country


   My basic question is whether this is good for the country. Not to change may be good for most politicians who have enjoyed the merits of the past system but may be bad or even possibly fatal for the country because the world is changing rapidly. If Japan will not change the country may well lose the critical assets and possibilities.


  On August 28, we had an opportunity to listen to Mr. Shigeru Ishiba’s speech at a study meeting of Shimada-juku. In fact, his speech happened coincidentally to be half a day earlier than Mr.Abe’s announcement of his resignation.


  Mr. Ishiba was exceptionally eloquent and persuasive. Out of many topics ranging from

excessive concentration into Tokyo, regional development, enriching people’s life, security issues, international relations particularly with Asian neighbors etc, the following statement was particularly impressive. 


  That is, during the recent 3 decades, Japan’s democracy has changed and deteriorated. In his view, democracy depends on 3 critical conditions: (1) as many entitled voters should vote, (2) correct information is provided to voters, (3) minority 

views should be heard. Needless to say, these are general and universal principles.

He implies that these principles have not increasingly be preserved in Japan.


   Contrasting this remark against what happened during Abe administration, the issues become more obvious. (1)Voting rate has been stagnant. Limiting the voters for LDP president much fewer this time is against the principle of democracy. (2) Non transparency of Abe administration, as written above, is against democracy, and (3)

Abe Ikkyo system(Abe’s extra-ordinary dominance) is to suppress diverse minority views. The band wagon effect of LDP presidential election is a case in point.


   What Mr. Ishiba implies is that Japan needs a comprehensive overhaul in order to

revive desirable democracy taking advantage of resignation of Mr.Shinzo Abe as prime minister. The band wagon phenomenon I mentioned above is the movement to override

and suppress this kind of minority view because this is to trigger a change of Japan, which is dangerous for people who have enjoyed their merits and profits under the past system.


   I am deeply worried about the overwhelming tendency observable in Japan to keep the interest of the past and prevent Japan from changing. I am deeply worried as to what will happen if Japan does not change in the world which is rapidly changing. If Japan will not change, Japan will lag behind and lose prosperity and opportunities.


  In fact, Japan has had memorable experiences in the past that Japan changed fundamentally and thus overcame the fatal crisis and opened possibility for subsequent 

remarkable development.


  One was Meiji restoration. Faced with threats of Western powers as symbolized by the black fleet which had incomparable high technology and military strength, Southern clans revolted against Tokugawa government which enjoyed 260 years of secluded peace, toppled the old power and established a new industrialized nation.


  Another is the defeat in Pacific War, occupation, and remarkable recovery which led Japan to materialize miraculous economic growth in subsequent decades. This “miracle”

happened in the wake of denial of Japan’s old system which led Japan to war, abolished

and destructed Japan’s power structure represented by military and financial groups.

This change opened the new environment where vigorous ventures developed small

firms to global major businesses.


   Compared with these experiences. The 8 year rein of Abe administration seems a very minor case. However, in the current world where speed of change is very fast,

8 years of monopoly of power to which the rest of the system is all geared、this is important enough to reexamine and deny and reform the demerits associated with it.


   Most probably, Mr Yoshihide Suga will be elected as president of LDP on Sept.14 and 

will be nominated as prime minister of Japan in an extra-ordinary assembly of the Diet on Sept 16, and he will conduct policies to sustain what Abe administration has been doing in the last 8 years.  But Suga administration’s term is up to the end of September

2021. Mr.Suga may well wish to get reelected in the LDP presidential election then and wish to continue prime ministership further. This is a natural desire of any politician.


  But I wish he understands what Japan is faced up with. Lack of change blocks the 

sight, opportunity and possibilities of the country. In a democratic country which Japan

proclaims, only way to trigger change is “open discussion and debate with heterogenous views. I wish he invites such discussion and debates of serious politicians

at latest half a year before the end of his term to select a leader who can chang

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