Less known in the US is that Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe is deeply mired in scandals of his own. Trump and Abe will hold their third US-Japan summit at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida starting Tuesday (April 17). The leaders will play golf, as they did the previous times they met.
The scion of a political dynasty, Abe hopes to become Japan’s longest-serving prime minister by winning a third term as leader of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party in September. But that goal looks a little more elusive now than it did after Abe’s party comfortably won parliamentary elections late last year.
On Saturday, protestors turned out in full force outside Japan’s parliament with signs reading “Abe quit” and “Abe is over.” Organizers put the number of protestors at about 50,000. Abe’s approval rating now stands at 26.7%, marking the lowest point since he took office in late 2012, according to a Nippon TV survey released yesterday (April 15).
Many who demonstrated suspect Abe of cronyism. One scandal drawing protesters involves the heavily discounted sale of state-owned land to an operator of ultraconservative schools with links to Abe’s wife Akie. Last month the finance ministry admitted it had altered documents—including removing the names of the Abes and the finance minister—before submitting them for parliament’s investigation. Political rivals pounced, saying there was a cover-up and that the Abe cabinet “should resign en masse.” Abe has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing by himself or his wife.
Abe came under more pressure earlier this month over activity logs related to Japan’s 2004-06 military deployment to Iraq. On April 4, defense minister Itsunori Onodera told parliament he’d learned the army had found the records last year, even though his predecessor Tomomi Inada had told parliament they couldn’t be located. “Cover-ups are the basic nature of the Abe cabinet,” charged opposition lawmaker Hiroyuki Konishi.
Yet another scandal plaguing Abe involves suspicions that he helped secure preferential treatment for a friend setting up a veterinary school in a special economic zone.
At least Abe and Trump will have scandals, not just golf, to bond over outside their negotiations, which will focus on North Korea and economic issues. For Abe the fear is that Trump will try to wring trade concessions out of him in exchange for doing the things Abe wants on the security front.
Last month Trump surprised Tokyo by abruptly agreeing to meet with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un, whose regime has been antagonistic toward Japan. If Trump indeed meets Kim, Abe wants him to seek the elimination of all North Korean missiles that could reach Japan, not just long-range ones that can hit the US, and to bring up Japanese citizens abducted by North Korea decades ago.
But Trump is looking for victories, too, especially ahead of the November mid-term elections. He could press Abe for market access and monetary and currency policies more favorable to the US. He might use the steel and aluminum tariffs he recently imposed—and a possible exemptions to them—for leverage. Also, Trump recently suggested the US might join the Trans Pacific Partnership, which he pulled out of it early last year while it was being negotiated. Japan is opposed to any big makeover of the trade pact, which the remaining countries signed last month without the US, but Trump could pressure Abe there, too.
It was concerns about North Korea that prompted Abe to seek this week’s summit, and he and Trump will likely agree to reject any phased denuclearization by Pyongyang. But as he returns to Mar-a-Lago, that is but one of his many problems.
TOKYO: Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, plagued by suspected cronyism scandals and cover-ups and with his ratings sliding, will likely step down in June, former leader Junichiro Koizumi was quoted on Monday as telling a weekly magazine.
A survey by broadcaster Nippon TV released on Sunday showed Abes support had sunk to 26.7 percent, the lowest since the conservative lawmaker took office in December 2012. An Asahi newspaper poll published on Monday put his rating at 31 percent.
Abes sliding ratings raise doubts over whether he can win a third three-year term as ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) leader in a September vote, that he needs to win to stay in office, or whether he might even resign before the party vote.
Speculation has also emerged that Abe could call a snap general election as he did last October, when his ratings were in a similar slump.
The latest signs of trouble for Abe come ahead of his summit this week with US President Donald Trump, where the difficult topics of North Koreas nuclear and missile threats and touchy trade matters will be on the agenda.
The situation is getting dangerous. Wont Mr. Abe resign around the time parliaments session ends (on June 20)? weekly magazine Aeras online site quoted Koizumi as saying in an interview.
Koizumi – a critic of Abes support for nuclear power after the 2011 Fukushima crisis – said that if Abe hangs on, it could hurt LDP candidates in an upper house election next summer.
Crowds of protestors demonstrated near parliament on Saturday, holding signs saying Abe is Over and chanting Abe quit! Organisers said 50,000 had participated by the time the demonstration ended.
Abe last week denied again that he had intervened to ensure preferential treatment for educational institution Kake Gakuen, run by his friend Kotaro Kake, to set up a veterinary school.
He has also repeatedly denied that he or his wife intervened in a heavily discounted sale of state-owned land to another school operator, Moritomo Gakuen, with ties to his wife.
But the Asahi survey, in line with others, showed that two-thirds of voters dont trust Abes explanations.
In another headache for Abe, the finance ministrys top bureaucrat has come under fire after another weekly magazine reported that he had sexually harassed several female journalists.
The finance ministry said in a statement on Monday that Administrative Vice Finance Minister Junichi Fukuda had denied the allegations in Shincho magazine and vowed to sue its publisher for defamation. Fukuda apologised for causing trouble to the finance minister and ministry officials by inviting public distrust, the statement said.
Former cabinet minister Shigeru Ishiba, who has made clear he wants to challenge Abe for the top post, topped the list of politicians that respondents to a weekend Kyodo news agency survey saw as best suited to become the next premier, with 26.6 percent.
Popular young LDP lawmaker Shinjiro Koizumi – ex-prime minister Koizumis son – ranked second with 25.2 percent, with Abe in third place with 18.3 percent. Former foreign minister Fumio Kishida, another possible contender, was fourth with 5.9 percent followed by Internal Affairs Minister Seiko Noda at 3.6 percent and Foreign Minister Taro Kono with 2.9 percent.
Among LDP supporters, however, Abe was top with 36.7 percent against 24.7 percent for Ishiba, Kyodo said.