02.10.2017 Author: Vladimir Terehov

Japan on the Eve of Extraordinary Parliamentary Elections


So the Japanese experts who believed that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe would use his constitutional right to prematurely dissolve the lower house of parliament (one year before the expiration of the legitimate powers of its current members) with the mandatory holding of elections within a month have turned out to have been right.

On September 21, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga made an announcement on the “plans of the government” to convene an extraordinary session of the lower house in a week’s time. Formally, this is in line with the response to the demand of opposition parties to discuss relevant issues that have not been on the agenda of the ordinary session that ended two months earlier.

In his own words, Abe announced at a press conference on September 25 that he is counting on the express support of the public to conduct “vigorous diplomacy” in relation to the DPRK and the adoption of the decision to raise the consumer tax to 10% (from the current 8%).

Therefore, the format of the extraordinary session of the parliament that occured on September 28 in the absence of main opposition party leaders was reduced to the appeal of the Prime Minister towards the deputy corps in the style of: “Thank you for your work. You are all dismissed.”

From the date of the dissolution of the lower house, the dates of the accompanying procedures, that is, the registration of candidates, the period of public statements, and, finally the date of the elections, are all accounted for. The latter is scheduled for October 22 of this year.

We have previously looked at the “pros” and “cons”, which should, in principle, have been taken into account by the current Prime Minister (and leader of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party) in the course of the adoption of a decision accompanied by such serious risks.

It should be noted that the outcome of the forthcoming parliamentary elections in one of the leading regional and global powers could lead to far-reaching consequences both within and outside the country. For, in fact, Abe wants to enlist the support of voters to amend Article 9 of the current Constitution. The problems accompanying these intentions have already more than once been discussed in the NEO.

With regard to the internal risks to the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and personally to Mr. Abe in connection with the decision on early parliamentary elections, these are due to the general turbulence that has begun to surface on the political landscape of Japan since the summer of last year.

Here, we note that there have been no serious threats to the dominance of the LDP since the late 50s of the last century (with two short and, more likely, occasional exceptions) until the July 31, 2016 gubernatorial election in the capital’s prefecture.

The devastating defeat of the LDP candidate and the election as Governor of Tokyo of Yuriko Koike, who had left this party and who, for two months, had acted as Minister of Defense in the government of Abe in the 2006-2007 period, testified to the request of the Japanese society to make serious changes on the political scene of the country. This request was confirmed a year later when the political movement “Tokyoites First”, barely organized by Yuriko Koike, once again threw the LDP on the tatami, but this time in the local parliamentary elections.

According to Yuriko Koike, for the time remaining until the extraordinary parliamentary elections, she is planning to turn her movement into a national “Party of Hope”. Therefore, the scandal-ridden party of the Prime Minister can hardly wait for an equally convincing victory, as at the end of 2012 and 2014. Moreover, there have already been cases of the withdrawal from the LDP of prominent figures who wished to take part in the formation of a new party.

Another new element in the Japanese political space was the election on September 1 of this year of the 55-year-old Seiji Maehara to the post of head of the largest (so far) opposition Democratic Party. Maehara was actively involved in its creation in the mid-1990s (that is, at a very young age for a big politician). In the middle of the 2000s, within the space of only six months, he already headed the DP.

The frequent designation of the DP as “left-centrist” is highly conditional, taking into account the heterogeneity of those “fragments” that it includes. As for the political preferences of Maehara himself, he is credited with sympathy for the period of “traditional” Japan, which preceded the period of the (“pro-European”) “Meiji Restoration” of the second half of the 19th century.

Maehara is a proponent of the strengthening of allied relations with the United States, and even in the days when he held several ministerial posts (including the position of Head of the MFA) in the government of 2009-2012, then headed by the DP, he proved himself to be a fierce opponent of China.

It is unclear how the two (relatively) new bright figures in the political field of Japan are going to share the opposition electorate. The forthcoming elections should provide a preliminary response to this question.

The confusion in the camp of opposition parties (which only a year ago agreed to act more or less coherently against the LDP) also arises from Maehara’s refusal to cooperate with the Communists gaining popularity in the Japanese society. He explains this with the differences in approaches to the constitutional reform and the strengthening of Japanese-American relations, issues that are important to him.

However, on Septmber 20, when the prospect of early elections became quite real, his position underwent some changes. He is still not ready to see the Communists in the (hypothetical) coalition with government forces, but agrees to coordinate his pre-election strategy to counter the LDP.

Apparently, in the light of disunity of the opposition camp, the LDP leadership decided to hold early parliamentary elections without first waiting for the outcome of an important test, i.e. the results of the election campaign in the local authorities, which had earlier been planned to be held in three districts. In addition, there has been a trend to restore the popularity of the existing Cabinet of Ministers, which fell to below 30% after a series of scandals around individual ministers and the Prime Minister personally.

In these circumstances, Abe decided to take advantage of the window of opportunity that had been opened and launch another samurai attack, without regard to the uncertainty factors. The first such attack, launched at the end of 2014, ended in a brilliant success. We await to see how the next one shall end.

Once again, we emphasize that so far, the prospect of an equally convincing LDP victory, as was the case three years earlier, seems unlikely. This is attested to by public opinion polls, which also show disagreement with the very act of the early dissolution of the lower house of parliament. It should be also added that Seiji Maehara announced its intention to create a united opposition movement together with Yuriko Koike.

The current stance of the Prime Minister on the question of constitutional reform is therefore limited and does not affect both main provisions of Article 9: not to resort to war as a way of resolving external problems, and not to have the armed forces necessary for this purpose. It is only proposed to introduce the third paragraph, which will simply legitimize at the constitutional level the “Self-Defense Forces” already existing in Japan.

For the situation in the Pacific Rim, this is not the worst version of the process (apparently, inevitable) of the transformation of the Japanese Constitution, which continues to bear imprints of events of 70-80 years ago.

Therefore, one can conclude that there’s no real contradictions between the ruling party and the forming opposition forces.

Vladimir Terekhov, expert on the issues of the Asia-Pacific region, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook.”

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