Of course, in 1960, the stakes were serious, the issues being matters of constitutional governance and Japan’s position in the cold war — and Japan’s wartime legacy, as embodied by Prime Minister Kishi, chief of economic planning in Manchuria and then architect of Japan’s total war planning, signatory to the rescript resulting in the Pearl Harbor attack, and imprisoned Class-A war criminal.
And now, in 2007? The people have indicated their disapproval at the ballot box, without even having to bother with demonstrations at the gates of the Diet. The issues at stake largely concern the public’s loss of confidence not just in Prime Minister Abe but in the governing class as a whole, as the Japanese people have struggled to deal with changing economic conditions. Insofar as Prime Minister Abe has failed to so much as even nod in the direction of popular anxieties, he ought to pay the price, legacy of short-lived premierships in the 1990s notwithstanding. That was then, this is now. Mr. Abe, of course, does not see it that way. As Asahi notes in its editorial today, “‘I take the people’s stern judgment rigorously and sincerely, and I should reflect, and while I reflect I will modestly fulfill my duty to reform and build the nation;’ in a word, the tough election results are not an expression of non-confidence in the prime minister. He probably takes it as a scolding from the people.”
Pathetic, really. Like his grandfather, Mr. Abe clings to an ideological perspective when all the people want is economic security; that is why the civil conflict that some feared in the aftermath of Kishi’s resignation in 1960 never materialized, because the LDP opted for Yoshida protege Ikeda Hayato, who not long thereafter announced his income doubling plan — and the rest is history. Despite having dragged his party to a historic loss, Mr. Abe still doesn’t understand that the vague ideological package that he peddles in Utsukushii Kuni e is of so little interest to the Japanese people that they haven’t even bothered to oppose it actively. They see a prime minister obsessed with waging the battles of the past rather than running a government responsive to their concerns, many of which are the product of the policies of his predecessor.
And that is why Mr. Abe’s tenure is doomed. Sooner or later, the LDP’s chiefs, inheritors of a tradition of political survivalism almost without parallel in the developed world (except for perhaps Italy’s Christian Democrats, as argued by Richard Samuels) will rediscover their survival instincts and find a way to ditch Mr. Abe. The question is whether they will do so in time to salvage the party’s reputation in its formerly “iron jiban” in rural Japan — and whether it is still possible for the LDP to exercise the kind of unchallenged dominance over large swathes of Japan that it once did.
Does anyone really anticipate Mr. Abe’s survival in the face of unremitting unpopularity among the people, control of the Upper House by the opposition, and growing fears within the LDP that their electoral prospects diminish with each passing day?
To once again borrow from Marx, if the resignation of Kishi Nobusuke was a tragedy, marred by violence and involving grand, historical stakes, the resignation of his grandson, whenever it comes, will be a farce, a product of his oblivious leadership in the face of public insecurity and his stubborn insistence on ideological governance when all the people want is a competent response to their concerns. And as a result, the conservative machine forged by Kishi in 1955 may well meet its doom with Mr. Abe acting as the unwitting and witless executioner.