Abe's short and tumultuous tenure of 11 months was plagued with scandals that led to the resignation of three cabinet ministers and the suicide of a fourth.Updated: Sep 13, 2007, 22:25 IST
It is almost a truism that Japanese prime ministers seldom last long in office. Even then the sudden exit of Shinzo Abe seems to have surprised many. Mr Abe resigned last Wednesday amid speculation about his failing health and mounting political pressures on his administration. Ironically, Mr Abe couldn’t have made a better start to his term, travelling to China and South Korea within days of taking office to rebuild Japan’s troubled ties with its near neighbours.
As Japan’s first prime minister born after the war, much was expected of him as he pressed ahead with the ambitious reform agenda begun by his popular predecessor Junichiro Koizumi, under the banner of building a “beautiful country”. In fact, with his approval ratings initially topping 70 per cent, Mr Abe never looked like stepping down in a hurry. He, however, seems to have made the fatal mistake of ignoring the grim writing on the wall and paid for it. The loss of the upper house for the first time in his party’s history enabled the opposition to block the renewal of a crucial anti-terrorism law that he needed to circumvent the so-called pacifist clause of the Japanese constitution. His short and tumultuous tenure of 11 months was plagued with scandals that led to the resignation of three cabinet ministers and the suicide of a fourth. No wonder the suddenness of the announcement of his resignation is fuelling rumours about something more sinister behind it, perhaps more scandals yet to become public.
Some of his policy mistakes were serious. For instance, he gave in to pressure from business tycoons not to antagonise Beijing and Seoul and refrained from visiting the controversial Yasukuni Shrine, which alienated the extreme right-wing constituency that Mr Koizumi had built up. The recent revelation that Japan’s government has over the years lost millions of pension records of ordinary people was probably an even bigger blow to the embattled premier. Although the blunder was made much before Mr Abe took office, it just so happened that they erupted on his watch. So it was a tactical error for Mr Abe to publicly take responsibility in a bid to project himself as a strong leader.