PM Abe’s resignation: More lessons from the Land of the Rising Sun

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced his resignation today after less than a year in office. This followed a defeat of his party, the Liberal Democratic Party, in the recent upper house elections as well as a string of scandals involving ministers in his Cabinet.

Photo: Channel NewsAsia

I’m not an expert in Japanese politics, but from what I have read, I thought Abe was doing a pretty decent job, especially on the international front. Under his leadership, relations with China improved tremendously, with a series of high level exchanges of visits between leaders of both countries — Abe made Beijing his first foreign visit, and Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao also made a successful visit to Japan.

Abe had great dreams of making Japan a “normal” nation once again. He converted the Defense Agency to a full fledged Ministry, and pledged to rewrite Japan’s pacifist Constitution. While the Constitution may have been music to the ears of Asians who suffered under Imperial Japan in the Second World War (and much earlier, in the case of Korea and China), it also made it very difficult for Japan to fulfill its international obligations as the second richest country in the world — for example contributing to the military aspects of reconstruction in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Unfortunately, his focus on international affairs and ideological aspects of Japan’s future, coupled with his poor performance domestically, led to his downfall. Channel NewsAsia reported:

Rural voters deserted the LDP in droves in the recent election, failing to relate to Abe’s ideological agenda, which focused on building Japan’s global standing and rewriting the constitution.

But the campaign failed to resonate among voters as the opposition pressed on bread-and-butter concerns such as mismanagement of the pension system and income inequality.

“Japan’s Abe steps down as prime minister”, CNA, Sept 13


What lessons does this hold for Singapore?

I think voters are the same in Japan, Singapore and anywhere else. Bread-and-butter issues will always take precedence over international affairs or idealogical pursuits, no matter what the merits of the latter are.

This is the key reason why the PAP has been able to win election after election since 1959. They know the vast majority voters don’t give a hoot about what Singapore’s international standing is, or whether they uphold human rights or press freedom. What they care about is whether or not life will get easier for them and their families over the next five years.

Is it any wonder then that Dr Chee Soon Juan and his ilk are finding it so hard to get support from mainstream Singaporeans? I admire Dr Chee for what he is fighting for. I don’t think he is out to bring Singapore down. But I also think his focus on spreading liberal democracy and human rights in Singapore is not going to win him many voters–as least not until our “unfreedoms” directly hit our pocketbooks. Without voter support, you can’t win a seat in Parliament. And without enough opposition seats in Parliament, the Government will never really feel any threat to its position and can continue enact policies with impunity.

The key, then, for a successful political party would be to focus on issues that matter to everyday Singaporeans — jobs, child support, education, retirement. Values and ideology should still be the guiding light of our leaders, but these values need to be melted into butter which can spread on the bread of the common man.

Author: Gerald Giam

Gerald Giam is the Member of Parliament for Aljunied GRC. He is a member of the Workers' Party of Singapore. The opinions expressed on this page are his alone.

12 thoughts on “PM Abe’s resignation: More lessons from the Land of the Rising Sun”

  1. Hi Gerald,
    I am sure political scientist will agree with you that domestic agenda is far more important than foreign policy.
    Just look at Bush senior- he was a hero when he routed Saddam Hussein and snatched back Kuwait from the Iraqis and yet he lost the presidency to Clinton as the economy was week. ( plus his “read my lips – No New Tax” faux pas)

    I always contend that the PAP are master politicians and do know Singaporeans psyche through and through and use combination of carrot and stick and literally have the voters in their hands.

    Singaporeans are suckers for goodies and as most have 3 square meals a day and can see for themselves from the region around us that things could be worse, the end up voting for the lightning bolt even they may agree in principle with fair playing field/ multi-party democracy etc.

    The other parties have a tough job and so long as the PAP do not have major scandals there is very little other parties can do.

    Personally I am keen for more democratic representation etc but cannot fault our present pro-business economy which is bringing bacon to our tables.

    The price we pay is widening rich-poor gap, more foreignors looking to exploit our economy ( just a reality and I am not condoning/condeming this).

    I wonder what others feel?

    Dr.Huang

  2. High profile scandals are powerful enough to force political change. I think the pension fund scandal was the most hard hitting for Abe. The Japanese pensioners expectedly and rightfully went berserk. I wonder what kinds of MIW tactics would be used to prevent such scandals from exploding in their face. Would the MIW be resilient enough to cope with a similar pension fund scandal?

  3. I have to disagree with the statement: “will never really feel any threat to its position “. They way they acted on the recent WP cycling event shows them like an elephant seeing a mouse and have taken a sledgehammer to crack a peanut (excuse the pun).
    Nonetheless I agree that the likes of CSJ and any MP-wannabee should focus on domestic issues to win seats as illustrated in Maslow’s Hierachy of Needs. Mind you, Japan is First World and basic issues still take centre stage if indeed, Abe’s resignation was based upon.
    I would definitely like to see more representation (read constructive) for a full debate and engagement in our parliament before changes/bills are approved.
    If the electorate continue to be gullible to freebies, I can’t see citizens having better lives (vs what they perceive to be already good).

  4. The way the Puppies rule the country with its high handed authocratic and arrogant policies, its only a matter of time that the PAP will be brought down to the earth.

    Just look at Taiwan’s KMT during those days, nobody would imagined that the opposition could bring it down and it will only be a matter of time that the current Govt in Taiwan will be brought down because of its corruption scandals.

    Time will tell and when the old man is gone, it will be up for grabs. As they say politics are dirty, anything can happen.

  5. Gerald

    Maybe as someone coming from a IT background, I suppose you have difficulty thinking laterally. Hence, much of your analysis looks more like a programming “IF-THEN” assertion than a well thought out one.

    Of course you are perfectly entitled to your opinion

    That said let me pose some questions to you primarily to probe your true intent of what you have written. That way, hopefully I will not misunderstand you.

    First lets recap the gist of your summary:

    The key, then, for a successful political party would be to focus on issues that matter to everyday Singaporeans — jobs, child support, education, retirement. Values and ideology should still be the guiding light of our leaders, but these values need to be melted into butter which can spread on the bread of the common man.

    Question:

    (a) What exactly do you mean by your phrase “focus on bread and butter issue”?

    Do you mean that the PAP are focus on bread and butter issue like “raising bus fares”, increasing GST and introducing plus incrreasing GST, so they are therefore more in touch with the people?

    Ok now if the SDP don’t talk about “bread and butter issue” whatever that means, and start shouting a how bad price increasing is hurting the poor, people will be anymore likely to vote for them?

    SO WHAT DO YOU MEAN BY FOCUSING?

    (b) Here is what you say:

    This is the key reason why the PAP has been able to win election after election since 1959. They know the vast majority voters don’t give a hoot about what Singapore’s international standing is, or whether they uphold human rights or press freedom. What they care about is whether or not life will get easier for them and their families over the next five years.

    If the PAP know that the vast majority of voters don’t give a hoot about what Singapore’s international standing is?

    Then whey are they spending so much time and effort telling people about Singapore’s international standing?

    Why do the PAP bother to spend so much money hosting IMF conferences in Singapore when it was going to hurt the people, shop keeper’s pocket?

    Why does the SM, MM, PM spend so much time going abroad instead of focusing on price increase?

    (c) If the PAP was the ruling Party in Japan, and it treated the Japanese people the way it treats Singaporean, do you suppose they will not be voted out?

    After based on your argument, the PAP, with its focus on bread-and-butter issue would easily have won over the Japanese people unlike Abe, right?

    (d) You say the PAP won elections after election, because the PAP was in touch. Now have you consider the fact that people of Singapore are ignorant?

    Tan Ah Kow

  6. That’s why the PAP has to try all means to stop WP’s activities from carrying out because it’s now a party which touches on bread and butter issues. But Singaporeans are too ignorant and forgetful about PAP’s bad deeds and policies. The PAP knows that only money can keep their supporters in check and therefore time and time again dangles goodies with fanciful names to entice Singaporeans to continue voting for them. Singapore’s politics is getting expensive to play with.

  7. I think it’s really just about the pensions. Although it’s not exactly Abe’s fault.

    Just put yourself in a pensioner’s shoes…

    I’d want to strangle someone (like Homer Simpson) at the least.

    In any case, I thought Shinzo Abe really did not have the same level of charisma as his predecessor, Junichiro Koizumi. Koizumi was enigmatically charismatic at the least, and he played his political cards well even in the face of adversity.

    If you have to ask me one lesson from this incident, it would be – as much as it is superficial, politicians have to manage their “face” to the electorate well. Differing personalities will require a different mix of actions to succeed.

  8. Hi Dr Huang – You said, “Personally I am keen for more democratic representation etc but cannot fault our present pro-business economy which is bringing bacon to our tables.”

    Why can’t we have our bacon and a bipartisan system at the same time? Last time I checked, every other First World country has that.

    Frankly, I fault the Opposition more than the PAP for this pathetic state of affairs. Up until the 2006 elections, opposition’s main thrust was always about lack of democracy, authoritarian govt, etc. ALl those may be true, but your average HDB heartlander doesn’t care.

    Tan Ah Kow – I disagree that SDP has been fighting for the bread and butter issues. They only do that to buttress their argument that the PAP is undemocratic and destroying Singapore. I don’t see them doing any social welfare work.

    Compare SDP with opposition parties in other countries. Hamas (Palestine), Muslim Brotherhood (Egypt) and PKS (Indonesia) all are very social welfare oriented — they actually have activists on the ground running social services. That’s how they win support from the common man. So people support them because of the “good” they do, not because they are Islamists.

    Anyway I wrote out that blog in about 20 mins. I don’t have any hidden (PAP) agenda, if that’s what you’re implying. Please read the rest of my articles in my blog. You’ll get a better picture of where I stand.

    thor666 – I read an article in a Japanese newspaper when I was there 3 weeks ago that said that Koizumi basically procrastinated on all the unpopular domestic issues like the civil service pension reform and left it to his successor to clean up the mess. My heart goes out to Abe. He got a raw deal while Koizumi got all the credit (domestically).

  9. Hi Gerald,

    The govt placed before the people a “false dichotomy”-ie the choice of either the PAP govt with its paternalistic “nanny state” or chaos & poverty ala third world countries which we see on BBC/CNN every day.

    You and I know it is more BS than truth, but the vast majority of S’poreans have fallen for the Lie- line bait and sinker! ( or at least it is less troublesome for them to accept the known than the unknown).

    The opposition ( including WP) is in a fix! Play ball and accept “teeny meeny role” in the parliament and a peaceful co-existance of sorts or try for the traditional confrontational opposition role in Westminster or US model and expect “robust” & hardball politics.

    You know which way the opposition (except SDP) has chosen! I don’t blame them. They are heroes already (to most of us except to the SDP camp- who think they are turncoats).

    So the choice for most S’poreans is- is the status quo acceptable and if not, should change come from within or without the establishment?

    Perhaps ours is Evolution rather than Revolution?

    Dr.Huang

  10. Ah I now see Gerald proposal for political party to win power.

    Bride the electorate! Or to use Gerald nicer phrase: “doing any social welfare work”.

    Very interesting proposal.

    Tan Ah Kow

  11. Dr Huang,

    Well 66.6% of people obviously didn’t think the oppo were heroes. :P

    I think the PAP’s good governance could probably last for at least 1 more generation, maybe 2. But after that what happens? Do we want to wait until the government starts declining before thinking, “Hmm…Maybe it’s a good idea to have an alternative.” By that time it’ll be too late already and it’ll be time to pack our bags and migrate to Australia.

    Tan Ah Kow – doing social welfare work is not the same as bribing the electorate.

  12. Hi gerald:
    I agree that we should not be sitting on our hands and waiting for the apples to turn rotten before we act.
    1.The first step is to a active non-apathetic citizen and let the rulers know that their every move is being watched and monitored.
    2.Encourage good men and women to participate in public life and give them all the support required.

    3.Keep nagging the powers-that-be to relinquish excessive power in order to level the playing field.

    Dr.Huang

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