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Japanese prime minister resigns

September 20th, 2007

Shingo Abe had a difficult and short tenure as Japanese prime minister. Scandal, government mismanagement, and humiliating electoral defeats finally led to Abe’s resignation on Sept. 12, just under a year after taking office.

The grandson of a former prime minster and son of a foreign minister Shinzo Abe looked like a reasonable choice to succeed the immensely popular, reform-minded showman Junichiro Koizumi.

Japanese Prime Minister Resigns

Having held previous government positions, and riding the wave of popularity of his predecessor, Shinzo Abe took control of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) on Sept. 20, 2006, and was elected prime minister six days later, according to The Associated Press.

Vowing to carry on the reforms begun by Mr. Koizumi, and even restoring relations with Japan’s long-time rival China, Shinzo Abe’s term as prime minister began on a high note. This early success would not last.
Doubts surfaced early about Mr. Abe’s competence as a politician when scandal and public furor began to plague his cabinet. Even before his highly publicized trip to meet with prime minister of China, Abe’s minister for deregulation was forced to resign amid accusations about fraudulent expenses.

His health minister then aroused public anger when he referred to women as “breeding machines.” These incidents were only the beginning of Shinzo Abe’s ministerial woes.

Mr. Abe’s agricultural minister committed suicide when he became embroiled in a financial scandal, and the next two men he appointed to the post would both go on to resign as they became involved in financial and political funding scandals of their own. A June 4 survey in the Japanese newspaper Asahi Shimbun showed that the support for Abe and his government had fallen by half, from 60 percent to 30 percent since his September election, according to The AP.

One more minister would find himself in hot water before Shinzo Abe’s cabinet struggles abated. This time, Abe’s defense minister enraged the public and politicians on all sides by making remarks that seemed to justify the United States dropping the atomic bomb on Japan at the end of World War II. He would resign shortly thereafter. The miserable term of Shinzo Abe did not, however, end there.

Public anger would once again be focused on Abe when it came to light that his government had lost 50 million pension records. Had he come out on the offensive against the pensions agency, the issue may not have caused Abe so much harm.

Instead, he tried to cover it up, and when the situation was finally exposed, Abe claimed he did not understand why it caused so much anger. Gerald Curtis of Columbia University in New York called the issue “Abe’s Hurricane Katrina.”

The final blow against Shinzo Abe and his government would come at the hands of the Japanese people.

Enraged by the incompetence of their government, Japanese voters took to the polls on July 29. In elections for half of the seats in the upper house of Japan’s Parliament, Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party was handed its worst electoral defeat since its foundation in 1955.

The LDP lost its majority in the upper house in a parliament that it has dominated almost continually for more than 50 years. Abe vowed to soldier on and remain prime minister, despite his humiliating defeat.

However, on Sept. 12, Shinzo Abe bowed to the pressure and resigned as Prime Minister of Japan, thus ending one of the most unimpressive political terms in recent memory.

Roger Purdy, who is the coordinator of East Asian Studies at John Carroll University, said Abe’s difficulties come from the fact that he’s not as charismatic as his predecessor and that he lacked power base within his own party.He went on to say that Abe was a new young figure who was supposed to heal all wounds but instead caused them.