As Scandals Dent His Approval at Home, Japan’s Abe Hobbles Along

As Scandals Dent His Approval at Home, Japan’s Abe Hobbles Along
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe addresses a plenary session at the Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok, Russia, Sept. 7, 2017 (AP photo).

Earlier this summer, Japanese Prime Minster Shinzo Abe reshuffled his Cabinet in an attempt to repair the image of his suddenly beleaguered government, which has been hit by a series of corruption scandals. After four years of soaring, and seemingly unassailable, approval ratings, Abe has finally seen chinks in his armor, as questions even rise about his ability to serve out a third term as leader of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, or LDP. If Abe loses the grip on his own party, his goal of staying as prime minister through the 2020 Olympic games in Tokyo—and becoming Japan’s longest-serving prime minister—may be in jeopardy.

The main culprit for Abe’s drop in the polls is his inability to shake graft scandals surrounding key aides, but there are others that directly implicate him. First was the fiasco earlier this year surrounding revelations that government officials permitted the sale of state land at much reduced price to a right-wing nationalist school group, Moritomo Gakuen. Compounding that scandal is the more harmful and still unresolved question of Abe’s potential involvement in providing political favors to former friends who wanted to build a veterinary school in the southern Japanese island of Shikoku. According to Abe’s detractors, the prime minister provided an unauthorized “special exemption” to his old friend for the school’s construction.

Abe has also suffered from scandals surrounding members of his former Cabinet. This was most evident by several high-profile lapses from the former defense minister, and close Abe protégé, Tomomi Inada. While running the Defense Ministry, Inada got herself in hot water over her description—and potential cover-up—of the security situation on the ground in South Sudan, where Japan’s Self-Defense Forces were deployed from 2012. Along with deteriorating security conditions in the South Sudanese capital of Juba, the ordeal forced the Abe government to make a strategic withdrawal of Japanese troops at a time when he wanted to show the world Japan’s growing role in peacekeeping and international peace and security.

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