Analysis: Japan's Abe looks to prove this time, he has the right stuff

Mon Feb 18, 2013 10:41pm EST
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By Linda Sieg

TOKYO (Reuters) - Five years after staring into a political and personal abyss, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is out to prove that the man who threw in the towel after barely a year in office has what it takes to survive as a long-term leader.

Abe, whose 2006-2007 term as premier ended with his abrupt resignation after a year plagued by scandals, an election defeat and a gastro-intestinal ailment worsened by stress, won a rare second chance when his party surged back to power in December.

This time, in an effort to show he's taking care of his health, Abe has resumed jogging and is sipping room-temperature water during parliament sessions, apparently to avoid stomach upsets. The prime minister also, media say, still consults memos reflecting on mistakes that he jotted down after quitting.

Even some opposition members say Abe and his aides display a better ability to govern than the first administration, when gaffes and scandals cost him five ministers including one who committed suicide.

"I think we can see ... the effect of lessons they learned from the first Abe administration, which gave up mid-stream," said Tetsuro Fukuyama, an upper house lawmaker whose Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) ousted Abe's Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) in 2009, only to be crushed themselves at the polls in December.

"I don't know (if he is a changed man), but I sense that those close to him are pulling together more effectively."

That said, members of Abe's team do occasionally show signs of singing a bit out of tune.

Finance Minister and former premier Taro Aso - who some suspect of dreaming of a come-back of his own - said on Tuesday Japan had no plan to buy foreign currency-denominated bonds as part of a monetary easing program. A day earlier, Abe had said buying foreign bonds was a monetary option.   Continued...

Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe speaks during an upper house budget committee session at the parliament in Tokyo February 18, 2013. REUTERS/Yuya Shino