Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will meet US President Donald Trump at the latter's luxurious Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida on Tuesday, April 17, but the mood this time will be less easy than when Abe had met Trump in November 2016 as the first foreign head of state after his victory in the presidential election.
Both Abe and Trump are facing tough challenges at home with the former's position much worse than that of the latter. In fact, Abe's rating in Japan is so bad now that one of his predecessors Junichiro Koizumi has advised him to step down by June end to help their Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) save blushes.
The tenure of the current Diet (Japanese parliament) concludes this June and Koizumi, who served as the prime minister between 2001 and 2006, felt it was the right time for Abe to step down. The 76-year-old leader, who retired from politics in 2009, said this during an interview with weekly magazine Aera on Monday, April 16.
Koizumi also said the scandals that have gathered around Abe would impact Japan's Upper House election scheduled in 2019. The veteran leader said candidates of the party would not be confident if they were led by Abe.
While one poll has suggested that Abe has an appalling rating of 26.7 per cent, almost four points less than that found in March, others gave ratings in the 30s but even that is quite poor compared to the 60s Abe was getting in early 2017. It is for the first time that his rating has fallen into the 20s since he returned as the premier in December 2012.
That the popular mood was turning against Abe became evident when 50,000 people protested outside the Diet last weekend, calling the prime minister a "liar" and asking him to quit.
The LDP has dominated Japan's politics for the most period since it was formed in 1955 and in 2017, it changed its rules to allow leaders to go for a third term at the top. Abe was well on his way to get the third term to become the country's longest-serving prime minister and pursue some controversial policies as he has been doing of late.
But Abe has been pulled back by a cronyism allegation that could see his ouster. The PM has not been able to shrug off charges that his government indulged in corruption by granting huge discounts in land sales to two education bodies linked to his wife Akie Abe's associates and then tried to cover them up. The finance ministry also conceded in May about tampering with documents related to the sale of the land to a nationalist school in Osaka with links to the PM's wife, including deleting her as well as the PM's names from them.
The Abe government is also in a spot of bother over the allegations against Junichi Fukuda, the country's vice finance minister, that he had been sexually harassing women reporters often. Fukuda has denied the allegations and also threatened to sue the publication on grounds of defamation but it has stood by its reports and also released a recording to substantiate its charges.
The Abe government had earlier diverted from the issue after calls for Fukuda's ouster became high but the finance ministry eventually started a probe into the top official's conduct on Monday and asked women reporters who had an uncomfortable experience with Fukuda to come forward.
These issues have undoubtedly added up to Abe's discomfort.