Japan's High-Flying Shinzo Abe Suddenly Faces Real Headwinds

By McCurry, Justin | The Christian Science Monitor, June 29, 2015 | Go to article overview

Japan's High-Flying Shinzo Abe Suddenly Faces Real Headwinds


McCurry, Justin, The Christian Science Monitor


Just weeks ago it seemed as if little could stop Shinzo Abe.

The Japanese leader, fresh from a historic speech to the US Congress, appeared strong, decisive, and - most of all - ready to enable his country's armed forces to take their first offensive role outside Japan in seven decades.

Abe's ruling coalition has large enough majorities in both houses of the Diet to pass laws that would allow soldiers to fight alongside allies on foreign soil for the first time since the end of World War II.

The moment seemed ripe to start defining Mr. Abe's tenure as an assertive new kind of prime minister.

But Abe, whose grandfather was a prominent figure in Japan's wartime cabinet, now faces real opposition.

Mounting public disapproval, sharp questions by constitutional experts, and a storm created by an extraordinary attack on the media by Abe's own allies have rattled the conservative leader - and may yet trigger his resignation.

The controversy centers on a series of bills to reinterpret - but not actually revise - Article 9 of Japan's postwar Constitution, which forbids its military to engage in collective self-defense.

Abe's policies could give Japanese forces the right to fight alongside US forces, provided the conflicts are defined as a threat to Japan's own national security.

Defending against new threatsAbe has invested considerable political capital in recasting Japan's strictly defensive posture of the past 70 years. He wants an Army better prepared to defend against new threats from Islamist terrorism, an expansionist China, a nuclear-armed North Korea, or other threats that any normal nation would need to challenge.

During his visit to the White House and Congress in April, Abe promised to ensure the bills' passage by the end of the summer. Pentagon officials who want Japan to play a more active role in bilateral security ties were delighted.

At home, though, opposition to Abe in a nation that became deeply pacifist after the war, has intensified.

Approval ratings for Abe's cabinet fell to 47 percent, down three points from May, according to a new poll by the Nikkei business paper.

Many voters cited the security legislation as the source of their discontent. Some 56 percent opposed ending the ban on collective self-defense. Only 26 percent were in favor; 81 percent said Abe had yet to properly explain the bills.

Earlier, three scholars invited by Abe's own Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) to testify before a Diet committee veered off message in front of the cameras to say the proposed changes would violate the Constitution. The view is shared by 132 of 151 academics just surveyed by Asahi TV.

Then there is ongoing bullying of the media by Abe supporters. Over the weekend, the government was accused of attacking press freedom after MPs loyal to Abe trained their sights on negative coverage of the security bills. …

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