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A possible reason for Abe’s sudden departure September 12, 2007

Posted by fukumimi in Politics.
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[Short version – One word: Koizumi]

Long version….

Abe stated that he will put his job on the line and fight for an extension of the anti-terrorism law which expires November 1st, giving reassurances to this effect to Japanese allies during the APEC summit in Australia.

Whilst the opposition has a majority in the upper house of the diet, the lower house is able to push through legislation which is rejected by the upper house if a 2/3 majority vote is attained. Given the LDP/Komeito alliance has a 2/3 majority in the lower house (331 seats out of a total 480), it would have been technically possible for Abe to push the legislation through.

If LDP and Komeito members could be counted on to toe the cabinet line.

And therein lies the potential explanation for Abe’s departure.

Whilst Abe was chosen as successor to Koizumi in a resounding endorsement last year, this was due to Abe’s popularity with the electorate and Koizumi’s endorsement of his chosen successor, and not because Abe holds political power within the LDP machine. There are a large number of novice politicians within the LDP’s 305 members of the lower house, due to the landslide victory in the September 2005 elections. Many of these first time politicans belong to the so-called Group of 83 (which actually comprises of 85 members now), a group also dubbed “Koizumi’s Children”. It is no secret that the loyalty of this significant block rests with Koizumi (and by extension, Mori), nor that most of them were voted in because of the immense popularity of Koizumi, and that a significant majority of them are likely to face an up-hill battle to retain their seats without the ability to ride the coattails of a popular leader.

The recent election defeat has resulted in Koizumi strengthening his influence, as any major defection from the LDP will make it difficult to pass legislation, particularly anything which requires a 2/3 majority. Koizumi has kept his head low, and his “children” have toed the party line thus far, but that 80something block cannot be counted on if there was a fundamental disagreement between the PM and Koizumi.

Koizumi has been rumoured to be extremely displeased at the recent reports that Hirao Takenuma, kicked out of the LDP for opposing Koizumi’s pet postal reform proposal, was being considered for rehabilitation. That on top of the make-up of the newly announced cabinet which took on a more traditionalist and inclusive hue, and maybe Koizumi has just had enough of Abe (and the old school factions of the LDP, who have begun reimposing themselves).

If Abe has indeed lost the support of Koizumi, he would not have been able to command the required 2/3 majority in the lower house, and going through the legislative process would have been a waste of time, and just delayed any recommencement of the MSDF refueling operations. By resigning now, he may have been able to secure, for his successor, the assurance that the LDP machine will vote as a block to push through the required legislation.

Perhaps this is a prelude to Koizumi becoming more active in politics again. He still retains significant power in the background because of his “children”, but once those seats are up for reelection (and most of the novices will likely lose their seats), he will again become a marginal figure within the LDP. Therefore, if he is thinking about reimposing himself on the Japanese political landscape, the clock is ticking.

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