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'Most Japanese don't want Abe as PM'

Publication Date : 22-11-2012


But polls show his LDP ahead of other parties, putting voters in a spot

Despite a forgettable previous stint as prime minister, opposition leader Shinzo Abe is poised to become Japan's premier again if his party wins the upcoming general election.

But most Japanese, it seems, would rather he did not.

Recent popularity surveys show Abe's Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) way ahead of other parties.

In the 2009 elections, the LDP was toppled by the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) as voters were tired of political inertia and, especially, the yearly change of prime ministers that stalled policymaking and tarnished Japan's image abroad.

But voters are disappointed with the DPJ's performance in the past three years and now believe the LDP can fix Japan's problems.

Abe is, however, not even his party's first choice for leader.

Just like other Japanese voters, LDP members have not forgiven Abe for throwing in the towel in September 2007, after a lacklustre year as premier and six weeks after the LDP was defeated in Upper House polls.

At the time, it was rumoured that he could not discharge his duties as premier because of a serious bowel disease.

Not surprisingly, in September's party polls, the LDP's rank-and-file members overwhelmingly chose former defence chief Shigeru Ishiba as party president in the first round of voting.

But in a run-off election in which only LDP lawmakers could vote, Abe came from behind to beat Ishiba as the lawmakers apparently felt the former premier would go down better with voters in a general election.

There was also a rumour that Ishiba was not very well liked by his colleagues.

Critics say that by choosing the uninspiring former premier as its president, the LDP has failed to present a fresh image to the public.

The result is that Japanese voters are now presented with a dilemma. If they vote for the LDP in the December 16 general election, they may have to live with Abe as prime minister again.

A party's leader is almost assured of assuming the premiership if his party clinches a majority in the general election.

But in a recent survey by Fuji News Network asking people who they wanted to see as prime minister, Abe garnered only 11.9 per cent of the votes, behind Ishiba and Osaka mayor Toru Hashimoto.

In other polls asking voters whether Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda or Abe would make the better premier, the results were mostly tied.

In a one-on-one debate in Parliament last week, observers agreed, Noda came across as a far better politician than Abe.

A straw poll by The Straits Times showed that the Japanese people were mostly against Abe's return as premier.

Ms Keiko Shima, who is in her late 30s, hates to see Abe as prime minister again.

"We should be firm in dealing with territorial issues but Abe is emotional and gives me the impression that he is cheap and shallow," said the public relations consultant.

Abe has vowed to take a harder line against China in an ongoing dispute over an island cluster if he becomes prime minister.

Housewife Izumi Kumano also does not have a good impression of Abe. "When he was PM, I saw him as someone who wilts under pressure and in times of adversity," said the housewife, who is in her late 40s.

"Japan is now in even tougher times than when Abe was prime minister. So I doubt if he can do the job if he becomes PM again," she added.

Retiree Toshiyuki Sue, 67, worries about Abe's conservative tendencies, including his frequent talk about revising the Constitution and creating a "beautiful Japan". Sue said: "I feel he cannot connect with the lives of ordinary people. When I hear him speak, I feel fearful."

A 36-year-old father of two from Osaka was the only person who expressed support for Abe in the poll.

"I take great pride in my country. So I support Abe as he makes me feel good about Japan," said the office worker, who asked not to be named as his employer forbids staff members from talking to reporters about politics.

Meanwhile, former premier Yukio Hatoyama yesterday told Noda he will not run in next month's election and will retire from politics.

Noda has insisted that all DPJ candidates sign a form agreeing to a planned sales tax hike and Japan's participation in the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade talks.

Hatoyama, who stepped down as premier in June 2010 after barely nine months in office, is against both policies.


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