[R-G] Japanese PM quits after scandals and unpopular reforms

Anthony Fenton fentona at shaw.ca
Thu Sep 13 10:57:33 MDT 2007

Copyright 2007 Australian Broadcasting Corporation
All Rights Reserved
ABC Transcripts (Australia)


September 12, 2007 Wednesday 6:18 PM AEST

LENGTH: 775 words

HEADLINE: Japanese PM quits after scandals and unpopular reforms

REPORTERS: Brendan Trembath


TANYA NOLAN: There was a prime ministerial resignation today. After  
almost a year in office, Japan's embattled Prime Minister Shinzo Abe  
has succumbed to months of pressure and quit the leadership.

He cited his party's poor performance in upper house elections in  
July this year, but did not resile from pursuing a nationalist reform  
agenda that became widely unpopular.

SHINZO ABE (translated): I have decided to announce my resignation.  
On 29th of July, the upper house election was held and the results  
were very bad. However, despite the bad results, I had thought that  
we should not, we must not stop the reforms and that we should not  
change our direction, which was to emerge from the post-war regime.  
And I had decided to continue and persevere forward. And to this day  
I have been making my greatest efforts.

TANYA NOLAN: That's Shinzo Abe in his resignation speech this  
afternoon. It's been an unseemly end for Japan's first Prime Minister  
to be born after World War Two, and the nation's youngest leader. The  
52-year-old took his cabinet to heady heights with approval ratings  
of 60 per cent, which then sunk to humiliating lows of 28 per cent on  
the eve of the party's electoral routing.

But it was a series of ministerial and political scandals that  
ultimately sealed the fate of Shinzo Abe. Brendan Trembath has been  
speaking to an expert on Japanese politics, Dr David Satterwhite.

BRENDAN TREMBATH: Dr Satterwhite, to what extent is this a surprise  
in Japan?

DAVID SATTERWHITE: I think there's no question that Prime Minister  
Abe's announcement today of his resignation came as a surprise to  
everyone, including the leadership of his own Liberal Democratic  
Party, of which he also serves as president. And so the timing, I  
think is particularly something that caught everyone by surprise.

BRANDAN TREMBATH: What brought it about?

DAVID SATTERWHITE: Well keep in mind that the Prime Minister's  
popularity ratings which started out a year ago at well over 60 per  
cent, have hovered below 30 per cent in recent months.

Secondly, he oversaw a stunning defeat of the Liberal Democratic  
Party in the recent upper house elections, such that previous Prime  
Ministers, for instance Prime Minister Hashimoto resigned in 1998  
over a similar but even a less devastating defeat at the polls. And  
so the fact that he had stayed on this long after that defeat was  
something of an anomaly in Japanese politics.

Thirdly, Parliament and interrelation questioning by the Opposition  
got underway, or was scheduled to get underway today and the Prime  
Minister clearly recognised that with his low popularity ratings and  
having overseen the defeat at the upper house elections recently,  
furthermore even with the reorganisation of his cabinet, the  
continued scandals that have emerged with regard to financial doing  
by his cabinet ministers and so on, have really made him a liability  
to the party, and he finally recognised that - if I may say it that  
way - and chose to resign.

BRANDAN TREMBATH: I understand another of the issues that has been a  
concern in Japan is one which came to a head when the Prime Minister  
was here in Sydney, and it involves the deployment of Japanese forces  
overseas and the supply of those forces. Can you explain what  
happened there?

DAVID SATTERWHITE: Well in the aftermath of 9/11 and the global  
effort lead by the United States and its allies to deprive the al- 
Qaeda of their stronghold under the Taliban regime in Afghanistan,  
the Japanese Government, clearly acting in concert with the United  
States, passed legislation that permitted it to assist in the war  
effort in Afghanistan by refuelling allied ships in the Gulf there.

The, that legislation is up for, is up to expire in early November.  
The defeat at the polls of the LDP, and the very sizeable victory of  
the opposition Democratic Party of Japan, positioned the opposition  
party to publicly oppose a renewal of that legislation. And so the  
long story made short is that the Prime Minister felt that he himself  
and the weaknesses of his cabinet made him a liability in passage of  
any legislation that would enable Japan to move forward on its  
international commitments in support of, as they call it, the war on  

And so I think the timing of this resignation was in hopes that by  
himself moving aside, leadership might emerge to forge a consensus  
view towards legislation enabling the continued deployment of  
Japanese self defence forces in support of that war on terrorism.

TANYA NOLAN: That's Dr David Satterwhite, and he's the executive  
director of the Fulbright Commission Japan and a specialist in North  
East Asian politics. He was speaking to Brendan Trembath.

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