To expand just a little on my “screw that guy” analysis:
I hope he gets well soon. August 2007 was probably the hardest month in Abe’s life – his government fell apart, the economy tanked, and his precious close US-Japan ties were placed in jeopardy. After all that, I would want to spend a few days recovering with an IV drip myself. Still, he was a conservative wannabe authoritarian hack and I hope this paves the way for a quick general election.
A comment on why he is quitting:
1. First, health reasons – it had been clear for a couple weeks that Abe started looking pale in his public appearances (though it’s kinda hard to tell)… I don’t think that it was JUST health problems that made him quit. But the timing may have been affected by his health (and he may have just figured it was time to go before intense Diet questioning began on issues like I am about to mention)
2. Anti-terrorism bill – Basically, I think Abe was sort of telling the truth and this was the main reason for his departure. He had made a big promise to Bush about continuing the activities and had counted on some kind of compromise from the DPJ (they had made some indications that a compromise could be reached), and failing that the tedious business of going through the entire Diet deliberation process to force passage of a new more restricted law by a 2/3 vote in the Lower House. However, the morning that he quit the Asahi front page article was the revelation that the SDF’s “Indian Ocean” refueling activities are used by the US for Afghanistan AND Iraq, despite the claim that they are used only for the more-palatable Afghanistan mission (pointed out by GlobalTalk21 a little while ago). I think Abe wanted to meet with Ozawa to work on some compromise without having to go through all the painful explanations of what exactly the SDF is doing and how exactly the government hasn’t been basically lying about it. But Ozawa, much like Phil Leotardo in the Sopranos, knows he’s in a strong position and is willing to say screw you at any moment. Ozawa is confident in his election strength and that a general election is the only thing he wants and he wants it now (I mean his health isn’t so great either).
3. Abe-bashing in the media – In August, especially after the cabinet reshuffle, the media never let up on Abe, in part because they never ran out of ammo. It has come out (via pro-Koizumi author and Tokyo Deputy Governor Naoki Inose’s mailing list, and I also saw it in Gendai which is maybe where Inose saw it) that the information that brought down MAFF Minister Takehiko Endo was based on a three-year-old Board of Audit report that was never talked about the the kantei despite the fact that “Kasumigaseki” knew about it. I think another big reason he quit was that he realized that in his weakened state there was no way he could withstand any more such attacks.
Also, I just want to take this opportunity to mention that my prediction for how Japanese politics will play out is still pretty much intact. The DPJ did use a symbolic bill (anti-terror special measures law) to force Abe out and now the heat is on to call a general election.
With the two houses controlled by different coalitions who cannot cooperate on anything, there is no hope for any meaningful governing from the Diet – the upper house will just delay and investigate every little detail until nothing gets done — it’s the ultimate filibuster power over the lower house. And we are stuck with the upper house for another three years. There are only three real ways it can work: A grand coalition (never gonna happen), revise the constitution to abolish or limit the upper house’s role (also unlikely in this situation), or for there to be a general election that places the DPJ-led coalition in power (it would be a roll of the dice but it would produce the most easily-run Diet). This comes as a by-product of Japan’s long history as a rigged one-party democracy brushing up against modern day political reality. The LDP always had a lock on the upper house and it never did much anyway, so 6 year terms and the right to hold every bill for 60 days sounded good enough.
The only reason this next race for who succeeds Abe matters is for internal LDP reasons… basically there’s not much any successor can do to be successful in the Diet or carry out any meaningful governance, so a general election will be called soon since Ozawa will just not let the issue wait.
The LDP race seems to be shaping up as Aso vs Fukuda… Aso has the PR on his side but apparently most of the factions are lining up against him including the Koizumi children. If he wins it will be more Abe-style bumbleheadedness and will divide the LDP even further, but he probably appeals to some for his media savvy (such as it is) and leadership credentials. Fukuda would be better for party unity as someone unconnected to the Abe bungling, but like I said the LDP needs to just get it over with and call the election already.