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Thursday, Sept. 13, 2007

Exit should have come sooner: critics

Staff writer

For the Liberal Democratic Party, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's resignation Wednesday was too long in coming, and regaining the public's trust will have to be the LDP's main objective from this point forward, critics said.

Abe's decision to quit came just two days after vowing in a Diet speech that he was going to soldier on and pursue his policy goals.

"I've never heard of anything like this," in which a prime minister quit right after giving his policy speech, said Norihiko Narita, a political science professor at Surugadai University in Saitama Prefecture.

"Of course Abe's resignation is too late. If he had quit right after losing the (July 29) Upper House election, he might have had another chance" at leading the LDP again, he said.

Narita pointed out that Abe's administration was shaky from the beginning because he chose his ministers "based on friendship."

Abe's first Cabinet, formed last September, was made up of close friends and allies. But his team's repeated money scandals and other problems led to a drastic drop in public support.

In that first Cabinet, Abe had to replace four members — administrative reform minister Genichiro Sata, farm minister Toshikatsu Matsuoka and his successor Norihiko Akagi, and defense chief Fumio Kyuma.

Matsuoka committed suicide after he was slammed over inflating his office expenses and his alleged involvement in public works bid-rigging.

After the crushing defeat in the Upper House election, in which the LDP lost its position as the largest party in the chamber, Abe attempted to make a fresh start by reshuffling the Cabinet and LDP leadership. But only eight days after the reshuffle, Takehiko Endo was forced to resign Sept. 3 as farm minister over a money-related scandal.

"Abe was inexperienced, and that is why it became difficult to manage the government and he was driven to resign," Narita said. "Abe thought he could rule (the nation) with the backing of his friends (as Cabinet ministers), but they couldn't support him."

Political analyst Eiken Itagaki said Abe didn't act quickly enough after the disastrous Upper House election.

Itagaki said if Abe was going to continue as prime minister, he should have prepared quickly for the tough road that lay ahead. But it took him a month to reshuffle the Cabinet, and the opening of the extraordinary Diet session was too long in coming — so Abe was pushed into a corner psychologically, he said.

According to Abe himself, his major reason for stepping down is to clear the political gridlock over the extension of the special antiterrorism law that expires Nov. 1, which has been enabling the Maritime Self-Defense Forces to fuel multinational ships engaged in counterterrorism activities in the Indian Ocean.

DPJ leader Ichiro Ozawa has repeatedly expressed his intention to oppose the extension and the prospects of continuing the mission appeared bleak.

Although Abe did not mention it, his health problems may have played a role in his decision to leave, according to various lawmakers, including LDP Secretary General Taro Aso and Chief Cabinet Secretary Kaoru Yosano.

With the LDP in disarray, the DPJ and other opposition parties are hoping for the dissolution of the Lower House, followed by a general election.

But critics are doubtful the LDP will go that far. While the party may have lost the No. 1 position in the Upper House to the DPJ, it still holds a majority in the more powerful Lower House.

"Even the present situation is better than dissolving the Lower House" for the LDP, Itagaki said. "(The LDP) would be sure to lose seats in the Lower House if there was an election in the near future."

Without a dissolution of the Lower House, the next general election won't take place for another two years.

The LDP announced it will choose its new president — who will become prime minister — as early as next week.

"The main theme for the new prime minister will be to regain public trust, because right now the public is fed up with politics full of corruption and causing disparity" between the rich and poor, Itagaki said.

Bureaucrats stunned

Kyodo News

Government bureaucrats were left bewildered Wednesday by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's sudden announcement of his intention to resign, with some criticizing him as irresponsible and others questioning the timing.

"To resign in a manner that is like tossing away the administration is the worst way to do it," one senior bureaucrat said, while a Finance Ministry official said Abe was being "irresponsible in his handling of power," asking, "What happens now with the Diet?"

Abe's announcement came just two days after he made a policy speech at the beginning of the extraordinary Diet session and expressed his determination to continue Japan's support for NATO-led antiterrorism operations in and around Afghanistan.

A senior Defense Ministry official involved in the Maritime Self-Defense Force's refueling missions in the Indian Ocean said Abe "had said he would resign if a bill to extend the dispatch does not pass the Diet, and expressing his intention to resign before fighting in the Diet doesn't make sense."

At the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry, where since May one minister committed suicide and another two quit amid money scandals, one senior official said, "There are too many surprises like this."

At the Land, Infrastructure and Transport Ministry and the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry, many employees appeared stunned as they watched the breaking news on television.

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The Japan Times

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