Opinion / Op-Ed Contributors

How can one root for Abe to win the poll

By Tom Plate (China Daily) Updated: 2014-11-21 08:14

Will Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe win the snap election he has called next month? It's a hard call.

Japanese politics, often mired in mediocrity, has the capacity to make you wish this planet could get along entirely without politics. The truth is that Japan, the world's third-largest economy and the United States' lead ally in the Pacific, tends to produce prime ministers who are such lemons that they, more often than not, are recalled. Since 1990, Japan has had no less than 16 prime ministers, including the present one - twice.

Abe hails from the upper crust of the Japanese ruling class. His grandfather and father were prominent political figures, and his mother is the daughter of a former prime minister. In the last decade, this blue blood held the prime minister's office, but only for a year - his short unsuccessful tenure blown to the heavens by one of those dreary Japanese political scandals that seems to yield both a ritual suicide (in this instance the then-agricultural minister's) and renewed hopelessness about Japan ever getting its political act together.

Yet the resilient Abe, rising from political ashes and dusting himself off, managed to win anew the leadership of his Liberal Democratic Party when about two years ago it recaptured the lower house of Japan's parliament. Abe II was reborn.

But Abe's feral nationalism, in substance as in style - he proposes to unleash and build a full-fledged military - is off-putting much of Asia thanks to Japan's history.

Japan's political culture has been stuck in the age of black-and-white TV, failing to produce (with the exception 10 years ago of the most unusual Junichiro Koizumi) anything as elegant as a Scandinavian leader, or as clearly competent as a Singaporean prime minister, or as hope inspiring as, say, the new president of Indonesia. But, supposing Abe flops next month, what will Japan and an anxious world get in his place?

As the saying goes, it is always best to look before you leap.

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