Although Thursday’s surprise resignation of economy minister Akira Amari appears to be a move carefully calculated to minimize damage to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s administration, serious damage has indeed been done, experts said Friday.
The scandal is bound to throw a monkey wrench into the government’s efforts to revive the economy and maintain public support, they said.
Amari, one of the architects of the prime minister’s deflation-busting “Abenomics” strategy, also spearheaded last year’s successful bid to hammer out the multinational Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade agreement.
In a news conference Thursday evening, Amari said he would step down over a graft scandal involving himself and his secretaries.
The resignation was largely unexpected. All things considered, however, it appeared a well thought out attempt on the part of Amari, a longtime Abe ally, to spare him further trouble that might have befallen the government had he attempted to cling to his post, experts said.
“If Amari had continued to stick to his post, it would have fueled up opposition lawmakers’ backlash against Amari to such an extent that Diet deliberations may have been significantly disrupted,” said Norihiko Narita, a political science professor at Surugadai University.
Amari’s continued presence at the Diet could have delayed approval of the budget for the next fiscal year, too, he said.
Despite Amari’s efforts at damage control, the Abe administration cannot be said to have dodged the bullet. In fact, Amari’s exit signals political turmoil ahead.
On Friday, opposition parties made it clear they will ratchet up pressure on the ruling Liberal Democratic Party over the scandal.
DPJ Secretary-General Yukio Edano, for one, demanded that Amari, a senior LDP lawmaker, and the secretaries involved be summoned to the Diet to speak about the case.
DPJ Diet affairs chief Yoshiaki Takaki also demanded that Nobuteru Ishihara, who succeeded Amari as minister of economic and fiscal policy, redo an economic speech Amari delivered to both chambers of the Diet on Jan. 22.
Experts, meanwhile, believe Amari’s resignation will slow down the government’s efforts at economic revitalization.
“The impact on (economic policies) is huge,” Yasuhide Yajima, chief economist at NLI Research Institute, said.
Losing Amari’s leadership could disrupt the implementation of certain policies as bureaucrats take advantage of Ishihara — largely seen as an economics amateur — to restart discussions and bring new agendas to the table, Yajima said.
Narita of Surugadai University said Amari’s resignation, coupled with the recent plunge in stock prices, may be seen as further proof that Abenomics has hit another snag.
“The resignation of Amari, a key brain of the Abenomics policies, came at a time when the public had increasingly grown skeptical over its success,” Narita said.
The departure could therefore aggravate public mistrust of the program and go a long way toward eroding support for the Abe administration, the professor said.
Narita added that the graft scandal highlighted anew the entrenched corruption plaguing the LDP — where members are often accused of mismanaging their political funds, damaging its image.
Meanwhile, Takao Komine, a professor of economics at Hosei University, agreed that Amari’s departure may hamper the government’s effort to engineer further Abenomics policies, but added that no fundamental disruptions appear in the offing.
“The government won’t change the overall direction of Abenomics just because one minister quit,” Komine said, noting Abe will likely remain committed to a new set of “arrows” comprising his growth strategy, including raising Japan’s birthrate to 1.8 and boosting its gross domestic product by 20 percent to ¥600 trillion by 2020.