Ris­ing Graph of Abe’s Pop­u­lar­ity

By call­ing for an early elec­tion, the 63-year-old Ja­panese PM aims to ben­e­fit from cur­rent trac­tion as well as di­vert at­ten­tion from re­cent scan­dals and ce­ment his lead­er­ship

The Day After - - CONTENT - By MriDu Ku­MAri

North Korea has given Ja­panese Prime Min­is­ter Shinzo Abe an op­por­tu­nity to raise his pop­u­lar­ity graph which oth­er­wise was head­ing south­ward from April to July fol­low­ing a se­ries of po­lit­i­cal scan­dals hit his gov­ern­ment. Thanks to his tough rhetoric at the UN Gen­eral Assem­bly on North Korea, Abe’s ap­proval rat­ing went 50 per cent high in Septem­ber from 36 per­cent in July, as per na­tion­wide sur­veys con­ducted by The Yomi­uri Shim­bun, the Ja­panese daily. Rise in pop­u­lar­ity is a prime rea­son why Abe dis­solved lower house of the par­lia­ment and called for a snap elec­tion which, ac­cord­ing to me­dia re­ports, would be held on Oc­to­ber 22.

By call­ing for an early elec­tion, the 63year-old Ja­panese Prime Min­is­ter aims to ben­e­fit from cur­rent trac­tion as well as di­vert at­ten­tion from re­cent scan­dals and ce­ment his lead­er­ship be­fore a new po­lit­i­cal party formed by Tokyo Gover­nor Yuriko Koike makes in­roads. The prime min­is­ter also an­nounced a 2tn yen ($17.8bn) stim­u­lus pack­age on ed­u­ca­tion and so­cial spend­ing. At a press con­fer­ence on Septem­ber 25, he said the fresh stim­u­lus was needed for pro­grams to pre­pare Ja­pan for the fu­ture. He also said he would con­tinue on his path of fis­cal re­form and would use the rev­enue from the re­cently in­tro­duced sales tax to bal­ance the bud­get and re­duce debt. Over the last month, Py­ongyang has fired two bal­lis­tic mis­siles over the world’s third largest econ­omy, be­sides con­duct­ing a hy­dro­gen bomb test in the Pa­cific Ocean.

Ja­pan is the only coun­try in the world which has ex­pe­ri­enced atomic bomb­ings and Abe’s hard-line stance on the mat­ter has res­onated among cit­i­zens fear­ful of re­peat of a nu­clear war­fare. While ma­jor­ity of the pop­u­la­tion still re­mains un­com­fort­able with Abe’s na­tion­al­ist ten­den­cies, yet his de­trac­tors are hes­i­tant to crit­i­cize him on de­fense and se­cu­rity is­sues, given the cur­rent Korean Penin­sula cri­sis. This has given him an op­por­tu­nity to push through a con­tro­ver­sial shift in Ja­pan’s post-war paci­fist de­fense pol­icy, call­ing for for­mal recog­ni­tion of the mil­i­tary in the con­sti­tu­tion. Ac­cord­ing to Nikkei’s re­cently un­der­taken sur­vey, for­eign af­fairs and na­tional se­cu­rity were ranked as the sec­ond-most im­por­tant is­sue for the elec­tion cam­paign, com­ing in be­low so­cial se­cu­rity poli­cies. Yet Abe faces a new chal­lenge from a for­mer Lib­eral Demo­cratic Party (LDP) cab­i­net mem­ber and cur­rent Tokyo Gover­nor Yuriko Koike, who ear­lier on Septem­ber 25 an­nounced she was form­ing a new na­tional po­lit­i­cal party. None­the­less, if cur­rent opin­ion polls turn re­al­ity for the Prime Min­is­ter dur­ing the forth­com­ing

elec­tion, he will re­main Prime Min­is­ter but his cur­rent coali­tion with the smaller Komeito party might fail to se­cure the twothirds ma­jor­ity needed for his plan to re­vise the con­sti­tu­tion. If he wins an­other term, it would put Abe on track to be­com­ing the coun­try’s long­est-serv­ing po­lit­i­cal leader in Ja­pan’s post-war his­tory.

In­ter­est­ingly in July Abe’s LDP had lost to Koike’s party, Tomin First in elec­tions in Tokyo. Abe ap­peared at risk of los­ing the chance to be­come Ja­pan’s long­est serv­ing Prime Min­is­ter. But Abe’s ro­bust rhetoric af­ter North Korean mis­siles flew over Ja­pan has helped dis­tract vot­ers from a se­ries of scan­dal that dogged him thor­oughly in the mid of this year. At the same time, the econ­omy is show­ing stronger than ex­pected growth, bol­ster­ing Abe’s bid to con­tinue lead­ing the coun­try at a time when the main op­po­si­tion is so weak. Sur­vey polls show that close to two-thirds of the pub­lic dis­ap­proves of Abe’s ac­cel­er­ated timetable, given that he is not legally re­quired to call an elec­tion un­til De­cem­ber 2018. But over the weeks a Ky­odo News poll found that vot­ers who planned to cast their bal­lot for Abe’s Lib­eral Democrats out­num­bered those who would vote for the Demo­cratic Party by more than three to one. Yet with 42 per­cent of those sur­veyed still un­de­cided, Koike’s wild card of a party is likely to cap­ture some of these vot­ers.

Koike her­self will not be run­ning for a lower house seat, but she will use her pop­u­lar­ity to cam­paign for her party’s can­di­dates. While an­nounc­ing the launch of new party, Koike said she wanted to in­crease fe­male par­tic­i­pa­tion in so­ci­ety and work to­ward an en­ergy pol­icy that elim­i­nated nu­clear power and re­duced car­bon emis­sions to zero. She said she wanted to de­bate the re­vi­sion of the Con­sti­tu­tion, but she ques­tioned the wis­dom of fo­cus­ing ex­clu­sively on the paci­fist clause that is at the cen­ter of Abe’s am­bi­tions. Koike ques­tioned Abe’s tim­ing in call­ing for an elec­tion. “I see a big ques­tion mark on call­ing an elec­tion in the midst of the North Korean sit­u­a­tion be­ing so crit­i­cal,” she said dur­ing a news con­fer­ence re­cently.

“I won­der if it’s ap­pro­pri­ate in terms of cri­sis man­age­ment for the coun­try,” she added. An­a­lysts feel that Abe has been pre­sent­ing him­self as a force for sta­bil­ity at a time when ma­jor­ity of Ja­panese have been awo­ken by SMSs no­ti­fy­ing them of mis­sile launches. He is also able to lever­age the fact that he is one of the few world lead­ers to main­tain a close re­la­tion­ship with US Pres­i­dent Trump and man­age the of­ten un­pre­dictable Amer­i­can Pres­i­dent. Yet on the elec­toral front, it is not clear whether Koike’s party would hurt Abe’s po­lit­i­cal for­tunes or whether it could be­come a coali­tion part­ner for the Lib­eral Democrats. So far, four mem­bers of the Demo­cratic Party and one from the Lib­eral Democrats have an­nounced their in­ten­tion to join the new party, along with a hand­ful of in­de­pen­dents. Those who have said they will join the new party are in fa­vor of re­vis­ing the paci­fist Con­sti­tu­tion. If Abe aligns with the new party, he could claim that there is more and broader sup­port for his pro­pos­als. And this is what he des­per­ately wants.

U.S. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, Ital­ian Prime Min­is­ter Paolo Gen­tiloni, Ja­panese Prime Min­is­ter Shinzo Abe, Bri­tain’s Prime Min­is­ter Theresa May, Cana­dian Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau and Euro­pean Coun­cil Pres­i­dent Don­ald Tusk ar­rive for a fam­ily photo dur­ing the G7 Sum­mit in Taormina, Si­cily, Italy

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