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Daily Archives: June 25, 2007

Polls batter Japan’s PM as election nears

 Image by Miwa Suzuki*

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is in a fight for his political life a month ahead of key elections, with half of voters hoping for his party's defeat following a barrage of scandals.
The outspoken conservative was hailed when he took over nine months ago for his young image and foreign policy successes. But his popularity has since plummeted, with many voters now seeing him not as youthful, just inexperienced.

In the latest poll out yesterday, 49 percent of voters wanted Abe's coalition to lose its majority in the July 29 election, surpassing the 35 percent who hoped the ruling bloc would keep it, the Nikkei economic daily said.
Even Hidenao Nakagawa, secretary general of Abe's Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), admitted: "Right now it's as if the Abe government is going downhill.
"We must change the tide," Nakagawa told supporters on Saturday, as quoted by Japanese media.
The election is for only the upper house of parliament and a defeat would not automatically cost Abe his job, as the LDP-led coalition enjoys an overwhelming majority in the more powerful lower house.
But a defeat would likely lead to calls within the LDP for Abe to quit.
It is Abe's first nationwide test since succeeding veteran leader Junichiro Koizumi in September and comes as his approval ratings have plunged to levels not seen since before Koizumi's time.
"It is hard to imagine that the trend is going to be reversed unless something astonishing happens," said Takayoshi Shibata, professor emeritus of Tokyo Keizai University.
"Mr Abe is trying to act like Mr Koizumi," Shibata said. "But he is just a well-bred kid who doesn't know what to do."
Koizumi led his party to a historic victory in the 2005 election by declaring he would stake his political life on privatising the mammoth post office and dramatising the polls by fielding high-profile candidates.
Abe, Japan's first premier born after World War II and grandson of a former prime minister, has put a priority on shaking off legacies of defeat including rewriting the US-imposed 1947 constitution.
But he has since changed emphasis after scandals, including a government agency's admission it misplaced millions of payments to the pension system, a sensitive issue in the rapidly ageing country.
"He calls for revising the constitution, which is about what the state should be like, and then talks about pensions, which is about civil society. He is inconsistent," Shibata said.
At 52, Abe is Japan's youngest post-war leader and has battled perceptions about his authority following scandals involving top aides, most dramatically his farm minister who hanged himself amid accusations of corruption.
Abe has made achievements on the diplomatic front, succeeding in repairing relations with China and South Korea that were tense under Koizumi due to issues linked to wartime history.
Junnosuke Masumi, politics professor emeritus at Tokyo Metropolitan University, said Abe's party was "in a very bad position."
But he warned not to completely write off Abe, noting that many voters remained unaffiliated.


UN inspector to press North Korea nuclear shutdown

 Image The leader of the UN inspection team tasked with overseeing the closure of North Korea's atomic reactor arrived in Beijing yesterday, saying the facility should be "shut down and sealed."
Olli Heinonen, the UN watchdog International Atomic Energy Agency's deputy director general for safeguards, landed at Beijing en route for Pyongyang, the North Korean capital where he is expected today.
"We have to make sure that the reactor should be shut down at Yongbyon. The facility should be shut down and sealed. So this is the next step on this long trip," Heinonen told reporters at the airport.

Asked if the team expected to go to Yongbyon, he said, "Let's see when we get there, how the arrangements are. We are looking forward (to the visit) and we are travelling tomorrow."
It will be the first time UN inspectors will have returned to the reclusive Stalinist regime since being kicked out almost five years ago.
The Vienna-based IAEA said last week that the North had invited inspectors back in to "discuss the modalities for verification and monitoring by the IAEA of the shutdown of the Yongbyon nuclear facility."
The Yongbyon reactor is at the core of the North's nuclear programme.
The mission is in line with a February deal struck by negotiators from six nations, under which Pyongyang promised to shut down the site in exchange for badly needed energy aid and diplomatic concessions.
It also follows a landmark visit to Pyongyang on Thursday by chief US envoy Christopher Hill, the most senior US official to visit in nearly five years.