Abe kicks off election battle
Japanese PM dissolves Lower House of Parliament
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
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.