13.05.2021 Author: Vladimir Terehov

The Political Situation in Japan is Getting more Complicated


The hopes of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party of Japan for a successful exit from a period of internal political turbulence, into which the country began to sink since the spring of last year, are not happening. Recall that on September 16, 2020, the Japanese Parliament approved Yoshihide Suga as Prime Minister, replacing Shinzo Abe. He resigned a year before completing his third consecutive term in the country’s highest public office.

Before that, during a year (2006-2007), Abe had already headed the Japanese government and it was then that the previous period of political turmoil started when Washington did not have time to remember the face of the next prime minister of its key Asian ally. With Shinzo Abe’s return to the position of President of the LDP in 2012, this period ended, and for eight years, (relative) calm and predictability were established in the domestic political life of Japan.

The NEO previously discussed the main reasons for Japan’s creeping into another period of domestic political turbulence since the spring of last year, which led, in particular, to the early resignation of Shinzo Abe, perhaps the most significant Japanese politician in the last 150 years.

As for the current prime minister (and the LDP as a whole), quite a discernible “warning” was made on April 23, when the results of repeated elections for two seats of the upper and one of the lower houses of the country’s parliament became known. All three were won by representatives of the opposition bloc formed last spring by the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, led by an experienced left-of-center politician, Yukio Edano.

There is therefore a real prospect of a defeat of the LDP in the upcoming general elections in October. This party has led the country almost continuously since the mid-50s of the last century. The defeat can be inflicted by the CDP, the successor of the Democratic Party, which already dethroned the same LDP in the 2009 elections. One of the leading functionaries of the LDP at that time was Yukio Edano.

Commentators on the fact of the LDP’s defeat in the April 23 elections point to the same reasons that led to Abe’s resignation in the fall of 2020. Of these, the main one is related to attempts to combine the need for restrictive measures to combat the accelerating spread of the number of SARS-CoV-2 infections among the population (with an increasing proportion of those infected with new, dangerous strains) and the holding of the next Summer Olympics in Tokyo, already postponed for a year.

It is unclear, for example, what to do with the fact that, according to the latest estimates, about 40% of unvaccinated team members will be present at the Olympics. Even today, the preparation and format of future competitions acquire tragicomic features and just resemble a madhouse.

Canceling the current Summer Olympics would be the only sensible solution. The Japanese people have long been in favor of it. But Yoshihide Suga did not dare to cancel.

Among other problems “inherited” by the current prime minister, we will point to the one that led to the decision (which received a resounding international response) to drain the water used to cool the damaged reactors of the Fukushima-1 nuclear power plant into the ocean. It is claimed that the water is “almost purified” before being placed in special tanks, now filled in to the brim.

The certainty of its draining was mentioned a few years ago because empty containers are needed to accept new portions of “purified” water. Almost certainly, the planned discharge will not be an unprecedented act because it is necessary to cool the zone of molten nuclear fuel continuously until it is removed from the reactors with (some) subsequent neutralization. So that something similar to Hiroshima, but “manufactured” in peacetime and with one’s own hands, does not happen.

Here it seems appropriate to talk about the subjects of the most general plan. Even from the standpoint of the requirements of the “green economy” that is fashionable today, nuclear power plants are almost perfect, except for one thing – they should not be allowed to break down seriously. However, almost the same can be said about other equally “green” power stations, the hydraulic ones, for example, whose operation is provided by reservoirs with tens of cubic kilometers of accumulated water. And below the retaining dam, usually millions (sometimes tens or even hundreds of millions) live.

Life, in general, is dangerous, and not everything depends on the person who came to it. The change of government in Japan does not affect the fact that on the east coast of the country, one tectonic plate has been moving under another for thousands of years, provoking catastrophic earthquakes. One of them caused a tsunami on March 11, 2011, which destroyed Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.

At the same time, the “electorate” with its claims to the ruling “elites” cannot be considered a complete idiot. All sorts of troubles of national importance should be studied and governments should get prepared for them in advance. For this purpose, the abovementioned “electorate” chooses the “elite,” allocating resources for its functioning.

However, essential aspects (which are precisely the subject of political struggle) arise when it is necessary to answer the question of “how” to respond to what is today designated by the term “challenges” of the natural and artificial political plans. The periodically conducted election process is designed to assess the correctness of the accepted answer to this and related other question: is the current “elite” a hero or quite the opposite?

Even though such an assessment is not always fair, the very category of “fairness” is rather extensible. In real politics, what is called “success” is much more important, which is also quite blurry, but at least you can try to measure it. For example, the victory over a political competitor in the same electoral process can be considered evidence of success in the domestic political plan.

Long before that, the mood of the “electorate” is subject to a thorough probe, and as a result, certain precautions are taken and should not be delayed.

By the fall of last year, the leadership of the ruling LDP of Japan had the impression that the painful “surgery without anesthesia” could not be delayed any further. Hoping to calm the growing irritation among the population from a lack of optimism in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic, a decision was made to replace Shinzo Abe, who “overstayed in the prime minister’s chair,” and who by that time had suddenly developed “ulcerative colitis,” requiring urgent treatment.

But it turns out that the relatively “fresh face” in the same chair did not go well. It’s pretty much due to the impact of “inherited” reasons.

While recognizing that an experienced administrative official, a manager who performed reliable support for Shinzo Abe before he was appointed Prime Minister, Yoshihide Suga did not prove to be a decisive politician, necessary for a time of tough challenge, as everything accompanying the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic had turned out to be. Let’s agree, though, that such conclusions (also “decisive”) can quickly be drawn by observing political battles “from the outside.”

Whatever it was, but on the political horizon of Japan, the figure of the same Shinzo Abe appeared “all of a sudden”. So far, he has held very modest positions as an adviser to specific groups of (political) interests, which make up both the parliamentary faction and the LDP itself.

It seems therefore that Shinzo Abe will have to urgently “heal” from the “ulcerative colitis” that worsened last fall. However, at the end of April, he said that he had recently started to consume some particularly healing pills and, as they say, they took away the pain.

Although, most likely, the general strengthening role, in this case, was played by Shinzo Abe’s own (apparently not wholly lost) hopes to return to big politics. By the way, by the time of the autumn elections, he will only be some 67 years old.

These hopes seem to be beginning to coincide with the LDP leadership’s vision of the immediate future of their party. Like nine years ago, this leadership is unlikely to have anything else but to try again to pull out of the political sleeve the same trump card in the person of Shinzo Abe. It is possible that against the background of escalating problems, the “electorate” will forget all the claims it made only a year earlier.

But suppose it turns out that the opposition led by Yukio Edano will come to power in the fall, after all. In that case, the foreign policy of one of the prominent participants in the “Big World Game” might have some new aspects. Hardly essential, but worthy of attention.

In any case, the previous period (2009-2012) of Yukio Edano staying in the power structures of Japan allows us to talk about this.

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



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