Abe kicks off elec­tion bat­tle

Ja­panese PM dis­solves Lower House of Par­lia­ment

Global Times - - World - By Chen Yang The au­thor is a PhD can­di­date, De­part­ment of So­ci­ol­ogy, Tokyo Univer­sity, Ja­pan. opinion@ glob­al­times.com.cn

Ja­panese Prime Min­is­ter Shinzo Abe dis­solved par­lia­ment Thurs­day, ef­fec­tively kick­ing off a na­tional elec­tion cam­paign where he faces an un­ex­pected and for­mi­da­ble chal­lenge from the pop­u­lar gover­nor of Tokyo.

Mem­bers of the lower house raised their arms and shouted “Ban­zai” three times – the Ja­panese equiv­a­lent of “three cheers” – af­ter the speaker read out a let­ter of­fi­cially dis­solv­ing the cham­ber.

Vot­ers in the world’s third-big­gest econ­omy will go to the polls on Oc­to­ber 22, as Abe seeks a fresh pop­u­lar man­date for his hard­line stance on North Korea and a new tax plan.

“A dif­fi­cult bat­tle starts today,” Abe told re­porters, shak­ing his fist.

“This is an elec­tion about how to pro­tect the lives of peo­ple,” said the premier. “We have to co­op­er­ate with the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity as we face the threat from North Korea.”

Abe asked for pub­lic support for his “strong diplo­macy” on Kim Jongun’s regime, which has threat­ened to “sink” Ja­pan into the sea and fired mis­siles over its north­ern Hokkaido is­land twice in the space of a month.

“We need to fight for our chil­dren’s fu­ture.”

Abe stunned Ja­pan on Mon­day with a sur­prise call for a snap elec­tion, seek­ing to cap­i­tal­ize on a weak op­po­si­tion and a boost in the polls, as vot­ers wel­come his hawk­ish pol­icy to­ward Py­ongyang.

But Tokyo Gover­nor Yuriko Koike has up­ended Ja­panese pol­i­tics in re­cent days, steal­ing Abe’s lime­light with her newly launched “Party of Hope” that seeks to shake up the coun­try’s lethar­gic po­lit­i­cal land­scape.

Koike’s new party, for­mally un­veiled Wed­nes­day, has at­tracted an in­flux of law­mak­ers from a wide range of ide­o­log­i­cal back­grounds and has suc­ceeded in uni­fy­ing op­po­si­tion to Abe, pre­sent­ing Ja­panese vot­ers with a cred­i­ble al­ter­na­tive to the premier.

Ja­pan’s main op­po­si­tion Demo­cratic Party later Thurs­day de­cided not to run can­di­dates in the elec­tion, ef­fec­tively join­ing forces with Koike’s jug­ger­naut.

For the mo­ment, al­though Koike is lead­ing the party, she is not run­ning for a seat in par­lia­ment, pre­fer­ring to con­cen­trate on gov­ern­ing the world’s most pop­u­lous city in the run-up to the 2020 Olympic

Games.

As Asahi Shim­bun re­ported, Ja­panese Prime Min­is­ter Shinzo Abe an­nounced on Mon­day at a press con­fer­ence that he would dis­solve par­lia­ment’s lower house on Thurs­day for a snap gen­eral elec­tion. On the same day, Tokyo Gover­nor Yuriko Koike de­clared she will lead a new Party of Hope. As the Ja­panese prime min­is­ter is usu­ally elected from the po­lit­i­cal party with a ma­jor­ity in the lower house, the ris­ing pop­u­lar­ity of Koike has made the up­com­ing elec­tion more like a choice of rul­ing bloc for vot­ers.

Dis­solv­ing the lower house, a spe­cial power of the Ja­panese prime min­is­ter, is not a rare oc­cur­rence since World War II. Al­though the con­sti­tu­tion of Ja­pan does not clearly stip­u­late that the prime min­is­ter holds the power to dis­solve the lower house of par­lia­ment, Ar­ti­cle 7 pro­vides that “the em­peror, with the ad­vice and ap­proval of the cab­i­net” shall per­form “dis­so­lu­tion of the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives” in mat­ters of state on be­half of the peo­ple. Since the con­sti­tu­tion stip­u­lates that the em­peror “may del­e­gate the per­for­mance of his acts in mat­ters of state (Ar­ti­cle 4),” it is the prime min­is­ter that gets to de­cide whether and when to dis­solve the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives.

In de­fi­ance of prece­dence, Abe claimed dis­solv­ing the lower house this time was to over­come “a na­tional cri­sis,” an un­per­sua­sive ar­gu­ment for most Ja­panese peo­ple. The so­called na­tional cri­sis is noth­ing but a low birth rate and ag­ing pop­u­la­tion and the North Korean nu­clear is­sue. The for­mer is a com­mon prob­lem for many coun­tries and the lat­ter solv­able via ne­go­ti­a­tion and di­a­logue. Nei­ther counts as a “na­tional cri­sis.”

There­fore, Abe’s dis­so­lu­tion of the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives seems ab­surd in com­par­i­son with the 2005 Ju­nichiro Koizumi dis­so­lu­tion forced by the re­jec­tion of con­tentious postal pri­va­ti­za­tion bills.

There are two rea­sons why Abe called a snap elec­tion. On the one hand, the ap­proval rat­ings of the Abe ad­min­is­tra­tion have bot­tomed out, so an early dis­so­lu­tion of the lower house may strengthen the regime. Due to the Morit­omo Gakuen and Kake Gakuen scan­dals di­rectly in­volv­ing Abe in the first half of this year, his ad­min­is­tra­tion’s ap­proval rat­ing has de­clined to about 30 per­cent.

Abe then made a se­ries of cab­i­net ad­just­ments and now main­stream Ja­panese me­dia polls show the rat­ing start­ing to pick up. A poll by Sankei Shim­bun on Septem­ber 18 in­di­cates the Abe ad­min­is­tra­tion now en­joys a 50 per­cent ap­proval rat­ing. With a re­cov­ery in con­fi­dence and support, an ear­lier gen­eral elec­tion spells higher odds of suc­cess.

On the other, po­lit­i­cal par­ties out of power are not yet pre­pared for such an early gen­eral elec­tion and each can be de­feated one by one. The Demo­cratic Pro­gres­sive Party (DPP), the largest op­po­si­tion party in Ja­pan, has re­mained de­pressed since 2012 with an ap­proval rat­ing un­der 10 per­cent for most of the time. Sev­eral DPP Mem­bers of Par­lia­ment left the party re­cently, adding more pre­car­i­ous­ness to its prospects.

The Party of Hope led by Koike has grown quite pop­u­lar, but the newly founded party has no com­plete guide­lines on mat­ters of state. Koike, in par­tic­u­lar, has not scored any sub­stan­tive achieve­ments yet, and so the Party of Hope is cur­rently nei­ther a ri­val to the DPP for rul­ing ex­pe­ri­ence nor widely fa­vored by Ja­panese vot­ers out­side Tokyo.

A Nikkei sur­vey of vot­ing in­ten­tions re­leased on Septem­ber 24 re­vealed that 44 per­cent of re­spon­dents plan to vote for the rul­ing Lib­eral Demo­cratic Party and only 8 per­cent for the DPP and the Party of Hope.

Con­sid­er­ing the ris­ing ap­proval rat­ings for the Abe ad­min­is­tra­tion and the sta­tus of other po­lit­i­cal par­ties, the rul­ing party will keep the ma­jor­ity in the lower house af­ter the gen­eral elec­tion and the chance of a shift of power is rather slim.

The Party of Hope, how­ever, is highly prob­a­ble to re­place the DPP as the largest party out of power. If so, Abe will have enough time to re­al­ize his longheld goal of a con­sti­tu­tional amend­ment and Koike will be­come a com­pe­tent lead­er­ship can­di­date in post-Abe era af­ter four years in the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives.

There­fore, this elec­tion will shape the fu­ture tra­jec­tory of Ja­pan’s pol­i­tics as well as reshuf­fle po­lit­i­cal forces.

Ja­panese Prime Min­is­ter Shinzo Abe (right) looks on as law­mak­ers raise their hands shout­ing “ban­zai!” (Hur­rah!) af­ter the dis­so­lu­tion of the Lower House of the Par­lia­ment in Tokyo, Ja­pan, on Thurs­day.

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