Japan’s snap election


The traditional ruling party, Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), under Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, apparently failed on three fronts. Namely: boosting of the economy on the basis of Abenomics, satisfying tsunami hit-areas along with nuclear energy policy, and strained relations with China. The party came into power in the December 2012 general elections by defeating the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) by a thick majority – 326 seats – more than two-thirds majority along with coalition Komeito party in a house of 480 members. The coming political party would also be unlikely to solve these myriad issues lingering since 2011 after the tsunami and Fukushima nuclear power plant incidents.

Abe-san thinks that snap elections to be held on 14 December would generate support for Abenomics. So he dissolved the lower house of the National Diet on 21 November. He could not get the economy out of recession. Japan has been in recession for the past four years. A weakening yen only benefited the export-led business elites by badly affecting the common man. There is an unpopular consumption tax hike by 10 percent pending bill in the Diet. He wants to delay it until April 2017. In the past quarter, the economy has shown a bleak picture. His growth led strategy has failed miserably.

Abenomics was nothing but a gimmick and it received a setback as it was exercised in less than two years. It was just a political slogan rather than a way to boost the economy. The economy has a natural curve and the Japanese economy needs drastic structural reforms. Abenomics will not take Abe-san anywhere in the snap elections.

These elections are a political gamble for Abe-san. Under the given scenario, it is being predicted that his defeat will be inevitable, but actually Abe-san wants to extend his tenure to six years up, to 2018.

Regarding an assertive Japan, Abe’s Cabinet made a shift in July about Article IX of the Constitution, to allow Japanese Self Defense Forces (SDF) to operate in conflict zones around the globe. This sparks anxiety amongst the Japanese and their neighbors. But the hawkish Japanese think that Japan has its inalienable right to play with its might in the global arena. Many in Japan strongly opposed Abe-san’s reversion to the Constitution. They professed to continue Japan’s pacifist military role and to boost its economy and economic role.

During Abe-san’s tenure, relations with China witnessed their lowest ebb. He only visited Beijing at the end of his tenure. His government requested to have a meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping; it was probably a move to save the tottering popularity of Abe at home. He did not ban his visits to the Yasukuni shrine in Tokyo, an emotional symbol of tension between Japan and China, where Japan’s war dead are buried.

The November APEC summit provided an opportunity to Abe-san to decrease tensions with China especially on the Senkaku / Diaoyu islands issue. He has accepted that the island is a disputed island between them. China might then shelve the issue for the time being to enhance cooperation in other fields. However, Abe-san’s diplomacy with China could not save his political tenure at home.

Nuclear disaster-hit areas have not been rehabilitated in the past four years. They are in limbo about nuclear energy since the March 2011 tsunami and earthquake. Increased safety measures in and around nuclear power plants do not touch upon the real issue of nuclear havoc. The post-Fukushima syndrome has not allowed any government to stay intact. The Abe Administration naturally fell to the energy syndrome.

These are the reasons and factors for Abe-san to announce new polls, but seemingly no party can address these challenges. Could new elections solve these problems? People have been questioning the logic and purpose behind them.

Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama (2009-10) aggressively talked about the replacement of US marines from Futenma to Guam but nothing has happened. American marines will not leave Japan until a major global change occurs, which is highly unlikely.

Under China’s rise and countering it from Tokyo and New Delhi, the Americans would continuously focus on Japan. An assertive Japan is only allowed under American influence. DPJ counters LDP’s policies toward the United States but always remains unable to fundamentally alter the course of the strategic relationship with the US. Even if they capitalize on the snap polls held in December, the status-quo will remain unchanged. The Americans are not going away from Japan. Under Abe-san, LDP is continuing its hostile propaganda against China and the containment of China is the basic point of their election manifesto. Abe-san’s defeat could lead to the further improvement of ties with China and that would be the only visible change via the snap election.

Views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ISS or of the Government of Pakistan.