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Editorial: Abe's political rhetoric no longer effective after Tokyo election setback

In the wake of the historic defeat of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) in the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly election on July 2, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told reporters, "I take the outcome as a severe scolding toward the LDP and deeply reflect on that." He also pledged to address affairs of state "in a humble and careful manner."

In a subsequent interview with the Mainichi Shimbun, the prime minister also said, "I have constantly asked myself whether there are problems that could be viewed as showing the government's slackness and arrogance."

He made these statements following growing public criticism over the ruling coalition's railroading of the controversial "anti-conspiracy" bill through the Diet and allegations that the prime minister showed favoritism to a school operator headed by his confidant over its plan to establish a veterinary school in a national strategic special zone in Ehime Prefecture.

However, Prime Minister Abe had shown no signs of his willingness to respond to the mounting criticism through the convening of an extraordinary Diet session to explain about the scandal and other issues as demanded by the opposition camp, nor did he display any humbleness in his drive to revise the war-renouncing Constitution by trying to form a consensus with opposition parties over time.

We are left to question whether Prime Minister Abe really is remorseful of his responsibility in the recent Tokyo election fiasco as president of the LDP.

It has been almost a customary practice for Prime Minister Abe to emphasize a priority on economic measures when his Cabinet's approval rating starts to sag after his government forced through highly hawkish policy measures, with the aim of regaining public support for his administration.

After the ruling coalition rammed through the Act on the Protection of Specially Designated Secrets, the government unveiled an updated version of its growth strategy. After security legislation was railroaded amid fierce protests and outcry across the country, the government advocated the promotion of the "dynamic engagement of all citizens."

The Abe administration has constantly employed such tactics, ushering in election campaigns after regaining public popularity, and then making the most of election victory momentum in promoting controversial legislation.

How, then, is the Abe government going to overcome the recent Tokyo election setback? Prime Minister Abe has mentioned a revolution in human resource development, which raises suspicion that he aims to use the policy as a springboard for constitutional amendment.

Such a straw man argument would not pass this time around, because what was at stake in the Tokyo assembly race was nothing other than Prime Minister Abe's political tactics.

At a press conference held after the ordinary Diet session ended in June, Prime Minister Abe mentioned "remorse" and pledged to "fulfill his accountability" over various issues that drew fire.

Yet, he failed to voluntarily address the allegations over the Kake scandal, including new documents that surfaced after an education ministry probe, nor did he take seriously Defense Minister Tomomi Inada's campaign speech gaffe, in which she asked for voter support for an LDP candidate "on behalf of the Self-Defense Forces."

Instead of listening to objections raised by opposition parties, Prime Minister Abe takes the opposition camp as his enemy. He gives key Cabinet and party posts to lawmakers who are his close allies, yet doesn't take his responsibility for their appointments when they make gaffes. He pressures bureaucrats to obey him by having authority over their personnel affairs.

It is only natural for the public to harbor a strong sense of distrust toward the prime minister. After the Tokyo election debacle, there is no way for Abe to avoid seeing his centripetal force within the LDP declining. While LDP officials have agreed to keep supporting the Abe administration in a unified manner, there are also frustrations smoldering among the party's ranks. Whether proper party debate will arise pointing to problems with the Abe administration is being put to the test.

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