Abe heads south, bloodied but unbowed

Following in the wake of last month’s APEC summit in Hanoi, Asian leaders are gathering in Manila for the second annual East Asian Summit.

Prime Minister Abe has departed, but he leaves behind a sticky political situation at home. He is facing declining popularity (his cabinet is polling below fifty percent for the first time since assuming office), his landmark education bill has yet to pass the Diet, the economy is showing mixed signals, and his governing LDP has been divided over the readmission of the “postal rebels” (LDP members booted from the party for resisting Koizumi’s postal reform), the nuclear weapons issue, and now the question of how Japan should fund road construction and maintenance. These concerns (ought to) raise questions about Abe’s ability to manage his party and his cabinet. Mr. Abe has shown himself to be surprisingly timid in governing, despite presenting himself as Koizumi Junichiro’s natural, reformist successor in advance of the LDP’s leadership elections.

That’s not to say that Abe’s cabinet is doomed to be short lived, or that the LDP is sure to be soundly defeated in next summer’s Upper House election. But it does mean that Mr. Abe has a lot of work to do if he’s going to govern for the maximum five years. Given the difficulties that have dogged him in the special Diet session winding down this month, expect the regular session that begins in January to be especially crowded.

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