Shinzo Abe’s ruling coali­tion ex­pected to win de­ci­sively in Ja­pan elec­tion

The Guardian Australia - - World News -

Vot­ing is un­der­way in Ja­pan’s gen­eral elec­tion and polls in­di­cate prime min­is­ter Shinzo Abe’s ruling coali­tion will win hand­ily, pos­si­bly even re­tain­ing its two-thirds ma­jor­ity in the more pow­er­ful lower house of par­lia­ment.

Ja­panese vot­ers may not love Abe, but they ap­pear to want to stick with what they know, rather than hand the reins to an op­po­si­tion with lit­tle or no track record. Uncer­tainly over North Korea and its grow­ing mis­sile and nu­clear arse­nal may be height­en­ing that un­der­ly­ing con­ser­vatism.

“I buy into prime min­is­ter Abe’s abil­ity to han­dle diplo­macy,” said Naomi Mochida, a 51-yearold woman lis­ten­ing to Abe cam­paign in Saitama pre­fec­ture, out­side of Tokyo. “I think the most se­ri­ous threat we face now is the North Korea sit­u­a­tion. I feel Abe has been showing the best tac­tics to han­dle the sit­u­a­tion, com­pared to other politi­cians in­clud­ing past prime min­is­ters.”

Abe dis­solved the lower house a lit­tle more than three weeks ago on the day it con­vened for a spe­cial ses­sion, forc­ing the snap elec­tion. The tim­ing seemed ripe for his ruling Liberal-Demo­cratic Party, or at least bet­ter than wait­ing.

Sup­port for Abe’s Cabi­net, the stan­dard mea­sure of a gov­ern­ment’s pop­u­lar­ity in Ja­pan, had bounced back from sum­mer­time lows. The main op­po­si­tion force, the Demo­cratic party, was in more dis­ar­ray than usual af­ter its leader re­signed. Hold­ing off would have given a po­ten­tial ri­val, Tokyo gov­er­nor Yuriko Koike, more time to or­gan­ise a chal­lenge.

Koike, her hand forced by Abe’s de­ci­sion, hastily launched a new party to con­test the elec­tion. Her Party of Hope briefly stole the lime­light from Abe, at­tract­ing a slew of de­fec­tors from the Democrats. Its pop­ulist plat­form in­cludes phas­ing out nu­clear power by 2030 and putting on hold an in­crease in the con­sump­tion tax due in 2019.

But Abe’s gam­bit ap­pears to be pay­ing off. The ini­tial ex­cite­ment for the Party of Hope has waned. Koike, the party leader, de­cided not to run for the 465-seat lower house and will not even be in Ja­pan on elec­tion day. She is head­ing to Paris for a global con­fer­ence of may­ors that will dis­cuss is­sues such as cli­mate change.

The Demo­cratic Party has im­ploded. Its more liberal mem­bers have launched yet an­other group­ing, the Con­sti­tu­tional Demo­cratic Party of Ja­pan, which is now out­polling the Party of Hope.

“To be hon­est, I wish we had strong op­po­si­tion,” said Ko Horiguchi, a 71-year-old re­tiree lis­ten­ing to Abe’s cam­paign speech. “But look at their sorry sit­u­a­tion right now.”

For the rest of the world, an Abe vic­tory would likely mean a con­tin­u­a­tion of the poli­cies he has pur­sued in the nearly five years since he took of­fice in De­cem­ber 2012.

That in­cludes a hard line on North Korea. Abe says it is not the time for di­a­logue and has pushed for tougher sanc­tions to try to pres­sure leader Kim Jong-un to aban­don the coun­try’s weapons devel­op­ment.

He has backed a loose mon­e­tary pol­icy that has boosted the stock mar­ket and breathed tem­po­rary life into a long-stag­nant Ja­panese econ­omy, though many of the gains have not fil­tered down to work­ing peo­ple, rais­ing doubts about the sus­tain­abil­ity of the re­cov­ery.

A strong elec­tion showing would boost Abe’s chances of be­ing reap­pointed to an­other three-year term as leader of the Liberal-Demo­cratic Party next Septem­ber, ex­tend­ing his premier­ship. That could make Abe the long­est-serv­ing prime min­is­ter in the post-sec­ond world war era.

It would also give him more time to try to win over a re­luc­tant public to his long­time goal of re­vis­ing the post­war Ja­panese con­sti­tu­tion. He may get the two-thirds ma­jor­ity he needs in par­lia­ment for a con­sti­tu­tional amend­ment, but any change also needs ap­proval in a public ref­er­en­dum.

Vot­ers fill in their bal­lot in Ja­pan’s gen­eral elec­tion, which is ex­pected to re­turn prime min­is­ter Shinzo Abe for an­other term. Pho­to­graph: Kazuhiro Nogi/AFP/Getty Images

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