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Where to now for Japan after Abe’s landslide win?

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Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, leader of the Liberal Democratic Party, gestures at an election campaign rally in Tokyo, Japan 21 October 2017. (Photo: Reuters/Kim Kyung-Hoon).

In Brief

In a master political move, Shinzo Abe has reclaimed a two-thirds majority in Japan’s lower house for his Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and its junior coalition partner Komeito through a landslide electoral victory on 22 October. In the process, Abe also precipitated the demise of the main opposition Democratic Party (DP) — the successor party of the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) which had convincingly displaced the LDP from power in 2009.


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Abe’s opponents in parliament now look even weaker and more fragmented than before. This gives Abe the chance to continue to implement his domestic policy agenda, forge stronger relations with like-minded nations and develop proactive security policy.

Abe’s unexpected announcement in September of a snap election unsettled many political actors. Within the LDP itself, there was a sense of trepidation. Only a few months prior to the announcement, the Abe government was facing a slump in its cabinet approval rating due to numerous scandals and the resignations of some tainted ministers. But there was even greater panic in the opposition camp. The DP had just elected Seiji Maehara as its new president and had failed to develop an alternative policy vision that would distinguish it from the LDP.

To make matters worse for the DP, Tokyo’s popular governor Yuriko Koike announced the establishment of a new national level political party, the Party of Hope. At the instigation of Maehara, many DP members flocked to Hope in search of better political prospects. Unhappy with this a number of the centre-left DP members established a brand new party — the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan (CDPJ) — led by Yukio Edano. As a result, the DP, once a challenger to the LDP, has now virtually disbanded.

The early prognosis following the snap election announcement was not especially promising for the LDP. Abe himself set a modest target of a simple majority of 233 seats in the 465-member lower house. But towards the end of the campaign most Japanese media survey results gave Abe more than a simple majority lead.

The final results gave Abe a landslide victory, with the LDP–Komeito coalition claiming 313 seats. The LDP alone secured 284 seats. On the other hand, opposition parties suffered crushing defeats. Koike’s Party of Hope garnered only 50 seats — five fewer than the CDPJ. Hope’s failure to be the largest opposition party is a huge political setback. Tactically, Koike made a mistake by screening candidates for ideological similarity and refusing to admit some of the willing progressive sections of the DP into Hope. She also declined to run for a seat in parliament herself and left her party without a prime ministerial candidate. As such Hope was not seen as a viable alternative to the LDP.

Now that Abe has regained a two-thirds majority in the lower house and is almost secure in his position as prime minister until 2021, a critical question is what kind of domestic and foreign policy agenda he will push.

Japanese voters appear to have given Abe a mandate to increase the consumption tax and to allocate the additional revenue to social welfare services, education and a better child care system.

While Abenomics has not produced desired results in overhauling Japan’s economy, especially regarding its third arrow of structural reform, there is a sense of optimism generally. The stock market has seen an upward swing and there have been improvements in some industry groups, giving the economy a much-needed boost.

Abe did not emphasise his most cherished project of constitutional revision as part of his mandate before the election. This was despite his narrative to take a tough stance on North Korea’s nuclear ambitions and missile program. The situation in North Korea will almost certainly be used as one of the justifications for the constitutional revisions Abe looks poised to propose, including to the Article 9 ‘peace clause’ which prohibits Japan from possessing offensive military capabilities.

Even though the Japan Self-Defence Forces (SDF) possess some of the most technologically advanced military capabilities in the world, its existence is premised on Cabinet Legislation Bureau interpretations of the constitution. Abe favours amending this to give the SDF explicit constitutional status. In his view, only through constitutional revision can Japan offer tough responses to the growing threat posed by North Korea.

The Abe administration will also likely continue its support for Washington’s strategic designs in the Indo–Pacific region in order to strengthen Japan’s alliance with the United States, which has underwritten Japan’s security. Abe will also seek to enhance ties with like-minded nations such as India, Australia and some Southeast Asian nations. All the while, Tokyo will keep its options open for dialogue with its neighbours China and South Korea.

Abe’s electoral gamble paid off handsomely. He has returned to the prime ministership as strongly as before and in the process has fractured and weakened his opponents, giving him a freer hand to pursue his long-cherished policy agendas. Countries in the Indo-Pacific region and elsewhere should sit up and take notice of Abe’s next domestic and diplomatic moves.

Purnendra Jain is Professor in the Department of Asian Studies at the University of Adelaide.

One response to “Where to now for Japan after Abe’s landslide win?”

  1. Thanks for an informative summary regarding the election outcome. Perhaps it was a lack of space but the analysis of where PM Abe might go from here could include a few more issues. On the domestic front he has, finally after having promised to do so a few years ago, begun to talk realistically about the need to boost the child care facilities around the country in order to facilitate more women entering the workforce. Per news reports he hopes corporations will contribute substantially towards the costs that this expansion will involve. Will he really risk alienating his corporate supporters with this kind of program? Up to now he has skirted around such issues rather than require that corporations actually give up some of their profits to do this.

    Other domestic issues Abe has made promises about but still require action on his part include the following: the promotion of women into more supervisory and executive positions in government and private industry, substantially reducing the number of lower paid workers on part time temporary contracts by offering them full-time permanent employment, getting corporations to boost wages via active legislation or changes in the tax codes, and reducing overtime hours worked by people all around the country.

    He has made vague promises and/or introduced new laws to resolve these problems before. But these have always lacked specificity and/or realistic enforcement mechanisms. It is time for him to do these things in a meaningful, concrete way which will translate into real change in the country. Its birthrate must rise substantially in the coming years. To do this Abe must find ways to instill more confidence in the future for those of marriageable and child producing age. Otherwise, Japan is doomed to a spiral of declining quality of life in the next 50 years. Besides, trying to increase the size and capabilities of the SDF will be a futile gesture if the country simply does not have an adequate number of young men and women to enter into the force.

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