Abe’s shrewd response

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Abe’s shrewd response

The author is the head of the JoongAng Ilbo Japan.


The heads of the first and second-largest Japanese opposition parties were supportive after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe canceled his four-country tour from July 11 to 18 on Monday in response to deadly rains.

They said, “Let’s consider halting our political fights to help the government focus on disaster response. We will also do all we can,” and “We applaud the swift cancellation of the trip.”

Abe’s tour of Belgium, France, Saudi Arabia and Egypt was already a hot potato before the heavy rain in Japan. The opposition parties claimed that Abe was travelling to avoid being questioned about his school foundation scandal. “There is no precedent of attending France’s Bastille Day celebration since Yasuhiro Nakasone in 1985.” The Prime Minister’s office countered that the trip was directly related to national interests, as he would sign an economic partnership agreement with the EU in Belgium and attend the Japan Expo and a summit meeting in Paris.

However, Abe canceled the tour on July 9, as the death toll from heavy rain exceeded 100 people. It is unusual for the prime minister to cancel a scheduled tour of major countries. The opposition parties then also took a step back.

All over the world, politicians’ concessions are not entirely out of good will. Abe is aiming for a third term at the Liberal Democratic Party’s leadership election, and he must have thought that inattentive handling of the disaster would hurt his chances more than fallout from the private school scandal. The opposition also calculated that the Liberal Democrats wouldn’t push to pass bills if they stopped political strife. While troubles are ahead as the Liberal Democratic Party still plans to push for the bills, Japanese politics is moving away from a full-frontal collision.

The media’s position on Abe’s recent drinking party is also strange. On July 5, when heavy rain had already started in some areas, Abe drank with a group of young Liberal Democratic lawmakers. It was a scheduled gathering, but opposition parties criticized Abe for lacking a sense of urgency in a time of crisis. Established lawmakers who also attended the meeting apologized and said that they did not expect the damage from the rain to be as severe as it was.

Now, with the rain’s impact on the economy and talk of rebuilding making the news, the drinking party is almost out of the Japanese headlines. While I found it strange, a friend in the Japanese media said that it was time to focus on recovery, rather than blame and fighting.

JoongAng Ilbo, , July 11, Page 29
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