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Wednesday, July 4, 2007
Kyuma's gaffe sure to hurt Abe's bid to woo voters, experts say
Already facing a tough Upper House election, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's recent attempts to woo voters will almost certainly come to naught amid the uproar over Defense Minister Fumio Kyuma's controversial statement, experts say.
Beset by voter anger over the pension fiasco and the political funds scandals of various Cabinet ministers, the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and its junior coalition partner New Komeito recently responded by extending the Diet session to ram through a series of key bills.
These bills reforming the pension system, the public servant system and the management of lawmakers' funds would have improved public support for Abe were it not for the flap over his defense minister's comments seemingly justifying the U.S. atomic bombings, said Kazuhisa Kawakami, a political science professor at Meiji Gakuin University in Tokyo.
"It appears that (Kyuma's comments) will have a very negative impact on public opinion ahead of the election," Kawakami said after Kyuma announced his exit Tuesday.
Buffeted by his Cabinet members' scandals and the Social Insurance Agency's mishandling of public pension records, Abe of late has emphasized he is taking concrete steps to carry out his policies.
Enacting the reform bills last week was only possible because Abe had extended the Diet session by 12 days to July 5 and delayed the election by a week to July 29.
Kawakami said Abe should have responded with anger to Kyuma's comments Saturday in Kashiwa, Chiba Prefecture, which were taken as justifying the atomic attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In the speech, Kyuma said, "I understand the bombing (in Nagasaki) brought the war to its end. I think it was something that couldn't be helped."
"But Abe protected Kyuma, instead of getting angry. That was a misstep in terms of crisis management," said Kawakami, an expert on political psychology. By doing so, Abe "made the public his enemy," he said.
Fukashi Horie, a former political science professor at Keio University and now president of Shobi University, pointed out that Abe's initial support for the embattled minister backfired.
The opposition camp has already shifted its focus to Abe's responsibility for Kyuma's appointment.
Asked why he did not dismiss Kyuma Monday, Abe told reporters: "Kyuma is deeply sorry about his comments' hurting many people with his misleading comments."
Horie said Kyuma inflamed public sentiment just as criticism of the pension fiasco was showing signs of easing.
"Some said that (Kyuma's) quick resignation limited the damage to the ruling party, but I don't think so," Horie said. "His exit won't soothe the public anytime soon."