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North Korea Crisis Restores Abe Cabinet Support

SNA (Tokyo) — This Week in Japan is your source for news and information about politics and other happenings in this East Asian island country. This episode covers the Top Five stories of the second week of September 2017.

One. Opinion polls showed that Shinzo Abe and his Cabinet were making a significant recovery. The pro-government Yomiuri Shinbun had approval of the Abe administration rising as far as 50%, but all polls showed it rising out of the danger zone to normal levels for a Japanese government. This somewhat unlikely rebound seemed to be primarily related to the nuclear missile crisis with North Korea, which Shinzo Abe was handling in a more competent and dignified fashion than the opposition parties seemed capable of.

Two. Speaking of North Korea, another missile was fired over Hokkaido one morning, once again triggering the J-Alert system and giving large sections of the general public a rude awakening. The trajectory of this missile was almost the same as the one two weeks earlier, except that it travelled a much further distance into the Pacific Ocean. In fact, its range would have been sufficient to reach Guam had it been pointed in that direction. The latest missile test appeared to be Pyongyang’s response to the relatively harsh economic sanctions imposed this week by the UN Security Council.

Three. Seiji Maehara’s nightmarish roll out as the new Democratic Party leader continued as three more conservative lawmakers resigned from the leading opposition party this week. These defectors cited their dissatisfaction with the Democratic Party’s electoral alliance with the Japan Communist Party, which ironically their fellow conservative Maehara too wanted to end. It seemed, however, that it wasn’t principle or ideology provoking these latest defections, but rather ambition. These lawmakers were eager to join the anticipated party loyal to Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike and were just looking for an excuse to jump ship.

Four. Masaru Wakasa, the lawmaker preparing to lead the incipient pro-Koike party, was giving further hints about the shape it might take. He claimed that it would be slightly to the ideological left of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and would be characterized by its willingness to challenge vested interests. Wakasa also indicated that all lawmakers in the party would be pledged to the policy of revising the Constitution to create a unicameral legislature, a rather farfetched and likely unachievable goal. The party was expected to be formed before year’s end.

Five. Kazusa Noda unexpectedly resigned as the formal leader of the Tokyoites First local party and Governor Yuriko Koike immediately appointed newly-elected Tokyo Assemblywoman Chiharu Araki to replace him. There did not appear to be a serious reason for the leadership change beyond being a reshuffle of important tasks for Mr. Noda. However, the manner in which Governor Koike changed the party leader without making any effort to consult the party’s 55 elected assembly politicians did not go over well with everyone. Some party politicians made clear they didn’t appreciate being used as a rubber stamp.

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