Japan Post-Election


Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) is backed again. Nationalism and Abenomics, a recipe of his growth-led strategy, will continue for the next four years as Abe-san’s policy. Visible change could not be seen in Japan’s snap election held within 2 years after Abe-san succeeded in the December 2012 polls. The victory was landslide but domestic economic reforms, rewriting of the Pacifist Constitution, and relations with China could not improve and led Abe-san to seek a kind of referendum on his policies, which he won again on 15th December.

The victory was, once again, landslide. Abe-san’s Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) won 290 seats and its coalition partner, Komeito, won 35 seats in the Lower House of the National Diet, making the total 325 seats, more than the two-third majority in the powerful law-making legislature.

Another independent joined the coalition and thus increased the number to 326 – exactly the same as existed in 2012. Abe-san will form his new Cabinet after taking oath on 24 December. Voters were least interested to go to the polls and the turnout was just 52 percent, the lowest after World War II. The snap election was unwanted, but Abe-san wanted to extend his rule to six years.

For the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), the defeat was humiliating and its President Banri Kaieda resigned after he could not retain his own seat in the Lower House. Former DPJ Prime Minister Naoto Kan also lost his seat. The DPJ had 73 total seats, but it is still the top opposition party. Ishin no To (Japan Innovation Party) won 41 seats and Japan’s Communist Party (JCP) won 21 seats, making it the fifth largest party in the National Diet.

The earthquake and Fukushima nuclear meltdown in 2011 put the final nail in the coffin for the DPJ in the past two successive elections. The nuclear issue is still unresolved. Japanese voters still blame DPJ for the economic failures and energy crisis. Now, Abe-san might resume nuclear energy and rewrite the Pacifist Constitution. If the latter comes true, there will be a fundamental shift in the geo-strategic landscape of Asia-Pacific. Japan will emerge as a powerful military power, challenging China’s maritime strength.

The two nations are at odds with each other on Senkaku/ Diaoyu, a small disputed islet in the East China Sea. At the APEC summit held in Beijing in November, both countries decided to conduct deliberations over the islet when Abe-san met with Chinese President Xi Jinping at the sidelines of the summit. Both nations have to improve ties. Abe-san remained reluctant to visit China. It was only in November that he attended the APEC summit and met with President Xi. Hopefully, this spirit will continue during Abe-san’s new term.

Abe’s comeback means that he will vigorously follow his economic reforms, Abenomics, and policy towards China. Abe-san also has a tilt towards India. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Japan in August and signed agreements worth US$ 20 billion. Both countries have been negotiating a civilian nuclear pact since 2010, and India has to satisfy Japan about its nuclear reservations and conditions.

Abe-san is more interested in Constitutional amendments by allowing Japan’s Self Defense Forces (SDF) to take part in conflict zones around the globe. The landslide victory is an attestation and a referendum on Abe’s Constitutional reversion. He will try to get the support of lawmakers for a militarily assertive Japan, which China and the two Koreas oppose; but is supported by the United States under the changing geo-strategic landscape of Asia-Pacific and the emergence of China replacing the US economy as the world’s largest.

The LDP is a traditional ally of the United States and together, they believe, they have been fostering peace across Asia-Pacific since 1945. The US has somewhat tense relations with the DPJ, JCP and others, and it feels comfortable with the LDP, which has mostly ruled Japan after 1954.

Japan is supporting US policy towards the Middle East, Ukraine, and Crimea. They have identical views towards China and are apprehensive of Russian moves in Europe and Asia. Together, they oppose the nuclear program of North Korea. A militarily assertive Japan is well within American interests. This means that the status quo will be maintained by Japan under Abe-san’s leadership for tackling global crises. Japan also needs careful diplomacy with Russia and China to settle the disputed island’s row. President Vladimir Putin is expected to visit Tokyo next year and it remains to be seen how the Abe Administration decreases the tensions with the Russian Federation over Ukraine, Crimea, and the Kuril Islands.

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