It has been almost two weeks since Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe suddenly resigned from office. A press conference was called suddenly, and everyone left the room more confused than when they went in. Abe was silent for over a week, and has only just come out earlier this week, saying effectively that his timing to step down was rubbish, and he for the first time apologised deeply to the nation. In the week after he quit, Abe admitted to hospital for extreme stress and fatigue. But what were the real reasons for his sudden and irresponsible departure, and what happened over his last couple of weeks?
Abe was known is Japanese political circles to be a good guy, with good intentions and a pure heart, the type who will always look after his friends. Coming from a well-known political family, hopes for Abe, the youngest PM for over 60 years, were high when he started the job just over a year ago. However in swift fashion his popularity sunk to (almost) Bush-esque lows, at just 29% the day before he resigned, and he was facing calls from his peers of being immature and incapable of leading the country. Unfortunately it is both Abe’s family history, and his misdemeanours from the past which appear to have come back to haunt him and contributed to his demise.
The first scandal to come to light were reports of a 20 year long relationship the married Abe had with a women in Fukuoka. Abe’s wife read scathing reports about his unfaithfulness, and Abe’s child to this woman through the media, which deepened the rift between a marriage already gone cold. Similarly, this news broke after one of Abe’s most trusted aides drank too much and was showing off to a hostess in a Ginza club, giving away all of Abe’s personal secrets. Even before this however, the Abe family marriage was already in difficult times, and husband and wife would go through long periods of complete silence, having to put in special effort to hold hands for the cameras when getting off the Prime Ministerial jet.
It is also now being reported that Abe was facing severe issues with the Japanese tax office over tax evasion. This is a complicated and dark tale around the whereabouts of assets which Abe inherited from father Shintaro Abe totalling over $100 million in cash and long-term bonds. This is wrapped into a complicated historical story where in the late 1950′s, large pools of money were grouped for political purposes exploiting loopholes around declaration, leading to confusion as to exactly where the funds and the responsibility for them now lies. Shintaro Abe’s long-term friend and closest political ally Shin Kanemaru, known at the time as “the Don of Japanese politics”, was arrested in 1993 for not declaring a large number of long-term bonds he held. The police subsequently raided his house, and found $10s of millions of further assets, including blocks of pure gold believed to have been a gift from Kim Il-Sung, the last dictator of North Korea. Kanemaru stated that these funds were to create a new political party, no doubt with his mate Shintaro Abe. The rumour-mill says that PM Abe had been sent a list of specific questions regarding these funds, and that if he did not answer them before 2pm on September 12, he would face the consequences. Abe resigned at that time.
A week before he resigned, Abe attended the APEC conference in Sydney. According to his aides, Abe was also having various health issues and had difficulties on the trip. Around this time, Abe’s mother Yoko Kishi, who was the daughter of Nobusuke Kishi, PM of Japan from 1957 to 1960, was also admitted into hospital. This increased Abe’s despair, and he was hardly eating by this stage. After returning to Japan, he was taking various medicines, and despite taking sleeping pills, was not able to sleep at all. He would be seen pacing around the PM’s residence at all hours of the night. In the ensuing session in the Diet on the Anti-Terrorism bill, he was said to look “like a dead fish”, and to his opponents long speeches, he would only reply lifelessly for around 15 seconds before sitting down again. His remaining supporters were by this time very worried, and said that he looked even worse than after he took the recent beating from DPJ. The leader of the DPJ Ozawa commented, “I have been in the political world for almost 40 years, and I’ve never seen a politician who has resigned like this.”
His personal, health, and possible tax problems were surely hurting him, his counterparts in the Diet, such as Aso and Mori, were gathering troops and support away from the “Abe-Family”, which Aso himself had helped to create near the beginning of Abe’s reign. Unfortunately by this stage, Abe’s aides were extremely concerned as he just didn’t seem to care about his increasing irrelevance. Not only after he announced his surprise resignation.
What really happened with Abe? Did he really just suffer from 機能性胃腸症、or was it in fact 気のせい胃腸症? And is Japan better off with Fukuda in charge? (There is a great overview on Fukuda’s positions courtesy of Japan Inc here.)