Abe turns a corner?

After weeks of depressing news, has Prime Minister Abe Shinzo finally turned a corner and found a way to boost his sagging poll numbers?

Two recent decisions in particular suggest this may be in the offing.

First, Mr. Abe announced yesterday that the LDP would not accept campaign contributions from three major Japanese banks that had announced their intention to resume contributions, from which they had abstained since the late 1990s (they were huge donors in the early 1990s). This should have been a no brainer, because it seems more than a little unseemly for the banks to make large political donations to the LDP after having been bailed out by the public.

Then, today, after days of stalling, Abe received the resignation of Honma Masaaki, head of the government’s advisory commission on taxation and professor at Osaka University. In a not-altogether-remarkable case of sleaze, Honma, a was discovered to be living with a mistress in a heavily discounted public apartment in a ritzy neighborhood in Shibuya.

Could these decisions actually be the beginning of an Abe revival? It’s too early to tell, and there’s plenty of reason to be skeptical, not least because in both cases Abe was slow to act despite growing public (and party) disapproval. The Asahi Shimbun (link in English) suggests, in fact, that Abe’s reasoning behind the bank donation decision is fairly transparent:

So on Tuesday evening, Abe moved to demonstrate his leadership as LDP president. He told party Secretary-General Hidenao Nakagawa that the party must “refrain” from accepting bank donations.

He then took advantage of a televised news conference to emphasize his decision.

With a degree of understatement he said, “As party president, I decided that accepting political donations from major banks would not win the understanding of the people.”

His “surprise” performance was very much in the style of his predecessor, Junichiro Koizumi, who won a reputation for “Koizumi Theater.”

Even party officials were caught off-guard. Hours earlier, Nakagawa had told a news conference that banks should be free to make donations at their own discretion.

But with opinion polls showing public support for his Cabinet had fallen to below 50 percent, Abe decided not to further risk the wrath of voters.

In fact, regaining voter support will be his most pressing task in light of a series of unpopular policy decisions and scandals involving his administration.

As such, there’s plenty of reason to question whether the Japanese public will view Abe’s latest gestures as indications of his dedication to responsible government.

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