News Analysis: Abe’s election win no reflection of public will, pressure mounts … – Xinhua
by Jon Day
TOKYO, Dec. 14 (Xinhua) — Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has, according to media exit polls, expanded his ruling coalition’ s two-thirds parliamentary majority in a snap general election on Sunday.
The Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) is projected to win 294 in the 475-seat lower house of parliament, while its coalition Komeito ally is to win 34 seats, giving the ruling coalition a combined total of 328, far more than the 294 seats the coalition held before Abe called the snap vote.
The landslide win for Abe and his coalition came at a dismal time for the opposition camp which suffered intraparty conflicts, leadership woes and disarray. The Democratic Party of Japan, which had 62 seats, failed to increase its seats in the election while the Japan Innovation Party, previously with 42 seats and the Party for Future Generations that had 19 seats, both lost ground, according to the exit polls.
However, the polls revealed the Japanese Communist Party has substantially increased its number of seats from eight, as a disgruntled yet apathetic public let their ballots, to some extent, do the talking Sunday.
The projected victory, which likely see the ruling bloc enjoy more than the 317-seat benchmark, means that Abe and the LDP, while being accused by the public, scholars and analysts of ” runaway politics,” “unilateral governance,” and of “harboring an autocratic, ultraconservative ideology,” have won a “super majority” vote in the lower chamber.
Such claims of autocracy and nationalistic leanings of the Abe administration have been swirling after Abe and his cabinet of likeminded right-wingers, bulldozing through unpopular policies and legislative charters, have brushed aside the nation’s constitution and enacted laws allowing the government to remilitarize the nation and suppress the public’s “right to know.”
The landslide victory also allowed Abe and his lawmakers in the lower chamber to override decisions made by the upper chamber, thus granting the prime minister carte blanche to run the country possibly through 2018.
“Abe will now have a clear run for the next four years, but while this was largely pre-determined there are a few issues around which Abe must now tread carefully,” political watcher Teruhisa Muramatsu told Xinhua.
“Along with the powerful Japanese Federation of Bar Associations and Japan Newspaper Publishers and Editors Association, who are both hugely displeased with Abe’s new secrecy law that came into effect on Dec. 10, the Keidanren – Japan’s most powerful business lobby group – has seen its chairman Sadayuki Sakakibara slam Abe for opting not to implement the second sales tax hike on time,” Muramatsu said.
Abe is not yet too big not to need powerful friends in high places in lobbies, like the Keidanren and agricultural lobbies, when reform in that industry become a spotlight again, he said.
Added to this, the Bank of Japan (BOJ), which is required legally to act as an independent entity from the government, is seeking to carry out long-term deflation goals. If the government fails to show tangible signs of getting its fiscal house in order, the BOJ chief Haruhiko Kuroda, unlike his predecessor, “is no government puppet and could start flexing his independence,” Muramatsu added.
Recent GDP figures showed Japan’s economy had contracted for a second-straight quarter, meaning the nation had entered a technical recession, which called into question Abe’s first “two arrows” of his “Abenomics” blend of economic policies, prompting the premier to buy more time to ensure his legacy by calling what analysts have described as a “pointless election.”
“The results seem predicable and unexciting,” said Koichi Nakano, a professor of political science at Sophia University in Tokyo. The opposition Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) failed to mount anything close to a challenge to the LDP, despite previous talks of a wholesale “realignment of opposition forces” aimed at reining in Abe’s autocratic governance.
But for the public, it was a simple economic referendum, regardless of Abe’s ulterior motives, as no other party stood nearly close enough to deliver on any of their pledges.
“The nation is ‘election weary’ and we’ve heard this phrase used many times over the past decade or so. Japan has had three national votes since the end of 2012 and the electorate will also be called upon to vote in local elections next year,” Asian affairs analyst Kaoru Imori told Xinhua.
“This wasn’t a vote that saw the nation throw its support behind Abe. It was one where the public had one hand forced behind their back as no alternatives were available,” Imori said.
“Added to this, the decidedly low voter turnout rate – the other way the public chose to show their opinions on Abe and the LDP – unfortunately played perfectly into Abe’s hands, because, as their support base is already largely fixed, there’s no need for the party to grapple for the backing of swing voters this time,” he said.
Far from a simple referendum on the economy and, in particular, the prime minister’s plans to delay the second tax hike from 8 to 10 percent by a year and a half until 2017 regardless of the economic situation at the time, Abe had used the opportunity of this election to consolidate his leadership.
According to Imori, Abe has bought himself some breathing space, as he can now regroup, launch the necessary stimulus measures to keep forging ahead with what he hopes will be his future legacy as one of Japan’s longest-serving prime ministers since WWII, and start looking at other issues such as the aging society, declining birthrate, women and employment and restarting Japan’s idled nuclear power stations.
“But Abe must make good with lasting structural reforms that have a fundamental effect on the nation’s economy and bring about sustainable change – on this point he’s failed up until now,” said Imori.
“But his party, and the lobbies who finance it, won’t stand for a second-round of ineptness and the electorate, as history has shown, votes out idiocy, rather than voting in economic or political acumen,” he said, adding that improving diplomatic ties with Japan’s closest neighbors would also be paramount to Abe’s future success or his undoing.