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.
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.
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.