Abe poised to call snap poll to cap­i­talise on op­po­si­tion rift

Se­cu­rity threats make hawk­ish PM pop­u­lar

Bangkok Post - - ASIA -

TOKYO: Ja­panese Prime Min­is­ter Shinzo Abe may hold a snap gen­eral elec­tion next month, lo­cal me­dia re­ported, a move that would al­low him to seize on op­po­si­tion dis­ar­ray and grow­ing sup­port for his han­dling of the North Korea cri­sis.

Mr Abe ap­pears in­creas­ingly in­clined to call an elec­tion amid a re­cov­ery in pub­lic sup­port fol­low­ing a spate of scan­dals, pub­lic broad­caster NHK re­ported, with­out say­ing where it ob­tained the in­for­ma­tion. He will make a de­ci­sion af­ter talks with se­nior Lib­eral Demo­cratic Party (LDP) and gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials and may an­nounce the move as early as Sept 28 when par­lia­ment re­opens, ac­cord­ing to NHK.

A vote is most likely to be held on Oct 29, Sankei news­pa­per re­ported. An NHK poll last week showed sup­port for Mr Abe’s rul­ing coali­tion climbed 5 points to 44% from a month ear­lier, with ap­proval ex­ceed­ing dis­ap­proval for the first time in three months. A snap elec­tion may speed up the for­ma­tion of a new na­tional po­lit­i­cal party linked to Tokyo Gov­er­nor Yuriko Koike to face Mr Abe’s LDP, ac­cord­ing to NHK, cit­ing com­ments by law­maker Masaru Wakasa.

North Korea’s re­cent spate of mis­sile tests has un­nerved Ja­panese vot­ers and more than two-thirds of re­spon­dents to the NHK poll ap­prove of Mr Abe’s strong line on the iso­lated na­tion. The main op­po­si­tion Demo­cratic Party ap­pears to be un­rav­el­ling with the res­ig­na­tion of sev­eral mem­bers since a new leader was voted in ear­lier this month.

“The Demo­cratic Party is in ter­ri­ble shape, so there is no op­po­si­tion to Abe,” Robert Du­jar­ric, direc­tor of the In­sti­tute of Con­tem­po­rary Asian Stud­ies at Tem­ple Univer­sity’s Ja­pan cam­pus in Tokyo, said by email. “Crises such as that on the Korean Penin­sula are gen­er­ally good for in­cum­bents. You can look like you’re in charge.”

Koichi Hag­iuda, a se­nior LDP ex­ec­u­tive, told Fuji Tele­vi­sion yes­ter­day that while a de­ci­sion to call a snap elec­tion rests with Mr Abe, the party has to be ready for a vote at any time. A spokesman for the prime min­is­ter’s of­fice said that dis­solv­ing par­lia­ment for an elec­tion is the sole pre­rog­a­tive of the prime min­is­ter.

A gen­eral elec­tion must be held by the end of 2018. Aki­masa Ishikawa, an LDP back­bencher, said if Mr Abe de­cides to call an elec­tion at the re­open­ing of par­lia­ment on Sept 28. it could be “good tim­ing”.

“With North Korea con­tin­u­ing to launch mis­siles, Ja­pan’s peace and se­cu­rity are be­ing threat­ened,” Mr Ishikawa said. “If par­lia­ment in­tends to con­tinue with vac­u­ous scan­dal at­tacks, rather than dis­cussing se­cu­rity, we must draw a line un­der that.”

Nat­suo Ya­m­aguchi, leader of Komeito, and a coali­tion part­ner in the Abe gov­ern­ment, said that with lit­tle over a year be­fore an elec­tion must be called, law­mak­ers need to be ready for an elec­tion at any time, ac­cord­ing to an NHK re­port. Seiji Mae­hara, head of the op­po­si­tion Demo­cratic Party, said that an elec­tion at a time when North Korea is threat­en­ing Ja­pan risks cre­at­ing a po­lit­i­cal vac­uum and that Mr Abe was seek­ing to es­cape ques­tion­ing in par­lia­ment sur­round­ing scan­dals.

Even so, some mem­bers of Mr Abe’s party are more scep­ti­cal. One se­nior of­fi­cial, who asked not to be iden­ti­fied be­cause the dis­cus­sions are pri­vate, said a snap elec­tion may be a gam­ble be­cause the rul­ing coali­tion could lose its two-thirds ma­jor­ity. This could slow the de­bate on chang­ing the paci­fist con­sti­tu­tion to make clear the le­git­i­macy of the na­tion’s armed forces, the of­fi­cial said.

“There is also a real chance that a snap elec­tion would lead to his un­do­ing,” said Koichi Nakano, a pro­fes­sor of po­lit­i­cal sci­ence at Sophia Univer­sity in Tokyo. “Call­ing a pre­ma­ture elec­tion more than a year ahead of the end of the term is purely on the ba­sis of self-in­ter­ested po­lit­i­cal cal­cu­la­tion.”

A Sep­tem­ber poll showed Mr Abe’s LDP had 37.7% of sup­port, up from 30.7% in July. Sup­port for the Demo­cratic Party was 6.7%, and no other na­tional op­po­si­tion po­lit­i­cal party had a higher rating, high­light­ing the weak­ness of ex­ist­ing op­po­si­tion fac­ing Mr Abe.

Mr Abe suf­fered a heavy de­feat in an elec­tion for the lo­cal Tokyo as­sem­bly in July at the hands of a new party formed by Tokyo Gov­er­nor Yuriko Koike. This was blamed on crony­ism scan­dals that tar­nished Mr Abe’s im­age. Koike’s Tomin First (Tokyo Res­i­dents First) party has yet to cre­ate a strong na­tional base.

Law­maker Mr Wakasa re­peated that he ex­pected Gov­er­nor Koike to of­fer sup­port for a na­tional elec­tion, NHK re­ported. Mr Koike de­liv­ered a his­toric de­feat to Mr Abe’s party dur­ing the sum­mer when LDP seats in the mu­nic­i­pal as­sem­bly fell to a record low and Mr Abe’s grip on power as one of Ja­pan’s long­est serv­ing pre­mier’s came into doubt.

Mr Koike spoke at an event or­gan­ised by Mr Wakasa in Tokyo on Sat­ur­day, and said Ja­pan needs “a new per­spec­tive rather than de­pend­ing on pol­i­tics con­strained by many ties”, ac­cord­ing to a Jiji re­port. Mr Wakasa said his group­ing is pre­par­ing for an elec­tion and would be able to stand some can­di­dates in a gen­eral elec­tion.

Mr Abe’s con­sid­er­a­tion of a snap elec­tion may in part be in­flu­enced by dis­cus­sion of a new na­tional party as­so­ci­ated with Mr Koike, ac­cord­ing to NHK. Tem­ple Univer­sity’s Mr Du­jar­ric said Mr Koike wouldn’t have time to pre­pare a chal­lenge to Mr Abe.

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