Sunday, July 8, 2007

Bye bye Abe?

I'm still catching up after two weeks in China then one week on vacation in lovely Sea Isle New Jersey with family. Prime Minister Abe of Japan - who was doing relatively poorly when I last checked - now seems to be imploding. Elections for the upper house of the Diet are to be held the end of the month and the LDP will get it's butt kicked. What's going wrong for Abe? In addition to the most recent controversy when the Defense Minister made comments that appeared, possibly, maybe, sort of - to justify the atomic bombs dropped on Japan in WWII (he's now resigned), the more significant issue was plummeting confidence in the competence of Abe's cabinet caused by a screw-up in the national pension agency. The following from the Economist gives the details:

Three ministers have now gone during Mr Abe's nine months in office, including a suicide. A fourth, Hakuo Yanigisawa, the health and welfare minister, is certain to go. Not only has he outraged Japanese women by referring to them as “birth-giving machines”, but he oversees a pensions agency which has admitted to losing 50m pensions records. This pensions fiasco, more than anything, is what has undermined Mr Abe's fortunes. On July 2nd a poll in the Asahi Shimbun showed approval ratings for his government fall below 30% for the first time, down by more than half since he took office.

It seems that just as damaging to Abe has been his focus, since assuming office, on issues like changing the constitution and revamping the educational curriculum - instead of on what seems to most people to be the obvious critical issue of figuring out how Japan can remain a properous nation with a shrinking, rapidly aging population and a massive government debt.

So what happens next? None of the pundits I've read seem to have a clue. All that seems to be clear is that Abe might be forced to step down if the LDP does worse than expected in the election - and no one knows what would happen after that. As J.P. Morgan once said when asked his view on direction of stocks, "markets will continue to fluxuate."

No comments: