At 14:00 this afternoon Japanese Prime Minister Abe Shinzo announced his intention to resign. This comes as a shock since he was so dogged about staying on after a “drubbing”:http://www.economist.com/displayStory.cfm?story_id=9587749 in the upper house elections last month, not to mention the countless scandals, firings and suicides. Furthermore, Mr Abe recently stated that he would stake his job on the extension of Japan’s Anti-Terrorism Special Measures Law which was enacted to allow the Maritime Self Defense Forces to participate in the War on Terror by refueling coalition ships in the Indian Ocean. The Special Measures Law wasn’t on the scale of “Miyazawa’s PKO bill”:http://cominganarchy.com/2007/06/29/a-giant-passes/ but was still an important milestone in the “normalization” of Japan’s foreign policy. The Abe administration was looking for an extension of the law — which expires 1 November — in the form of a “new law if necessary”:http://www.asahi.com/english/Herald-asahi/TKY200709110525.html, but the opposition was having none of it. Many regarded Mr Abe’s threat of resignation if the law wasn’t extended as not particularly threatening, and possibly a welcome benefit. The downfall of the Abe administration seemed imminent, tied to the expiration of the Special Measures Law. And then came today’s announcement. Mr Abe did not state why or when he would step down, but that he will might take some of the anti-Abe steam out of the Special Measures Law extension. If there was any use for him announcing his resignation, this might well be it.
*UPDATE:* For those that doubt the altriusm of Mr Abe for stepping down to preserve the chances of a “good” law passing, “TPR has a thought”:http://www.transpacificradio.com/2007/09/12/japanese-prime-minister-abe-resigns/:
bq. The DPJ was pushing for a general election, which we all knew the LDP would have a hard time winning. The question now is to what extent Abe stole the DPJ’s thunder by stepping down, acting as a lightning rod and taking the DPJ best ammo down with him. Is a general election now more or less likely?