East Asia Forum - Ben Ascione on Snap election belies Japan’s weak politics

The incumbent Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) seems to be cruising towards a victory in the snap election to be held on 14 December. But beware of interpreting this as a ringing endorsement of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Instead, the likely result shows just how weak Japanese politics has become.

Prime Minister Abe’s decision to call the election two years ahead of schedule appears odd, especially given that the LDP–New Komeito coalition currently holds a two-thirds majority in the lower house.

But it was a calculated move by Abe to extend his political life. LDP regulations require an internal election among party members every three years for the position of party president (effectively the prime ministership assuming the LDP is in power at the time). Party presidents are also limited to two consecutive terms. So Abe is barred from extending his current stint as prime minister beyond September 2018. Winning an election later won’t buy him any extra time in office. And the snap election has caught the opposition parties off guard, leaving them with relatively little time to prepare election campaigns.

There are several burning issues that could see Abe’s public support falling further. Two unpopular policies are the restarting of nuclear power plants and the amending of relevant laws aimed at enabling the Japan Self-Defense Forces to exercise a limited right to collective self-defence, as outlined in the 1 July cabinet decision. Then there are the scandals surrounding the resignations of Economy Minister Yuko Obuchi and Justice Minister Midori Matsushima that emerged after the September cabinet reshuffle.

Calling the election now gives Abe the best shot at serving the full six years, despite its self-serving political rationale. Even if its majority shrinks, an LDP win seems all but assured for three reasons.

Read the whole article on East Asia Forum website.


Image by m-louis on Flickr under the CC BY-SA 2.0 license.


Updated:  27 November 2018/Responsible Officer:  JI Management Group/Page Contact:  Japan Institute