After a decisive election victory on 14 December, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe would seem to be in an extremely sweet spot to deliver on both his main domestic and international policy agendas.
While the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) did not increase its majority in the Diet, the governing LDP-Komeito coalition maintained its two-thirds majority needed to get major measures through both houses of parliament. The election which nobody wanted to have achieved just what Abe wanted it to: ending up pretty well with what he virtually had status quo ante — a gain of just one seat for the coalition (326 as opposed to 325 in 2012), a marginal loss for the LDP (291 seats in 2014 compared to 294 in 2012) and a small gain for the Komeito, the LDP’s coalition partner (35 seats as opposed to 31 in 2012). In rallying to Komeito, the electorate appears to have put a moderate liberal brake on the shift to the right. The other big winner from the election, the Japan Communist Party (JCP), which more than doubled its seat tally to 21 in the lower house, now has 32 members in both houses of parliament and won its first single member constituency (in Okinawa) this time round.
Abe’s approval ratings, which had been on a downward slide, have levelled out since the election, though this is likely to be a temporary development unless he’s able to reverse the underlying corrosion of confidence in his ability to deliver on his policy agenda. Abe had a massive 70 per cent approval rate at the beginning of his term in 2012, largely founded on the promise of delivering a way out of Japan’s economic stagnation via ‘Abenomics’. The intervening two years saw his approval rating steadily drop to below 50 per cent with the Yomiuri newspaper poll just before the election registering a 42 per cent approval rating, a mere 3 percentage points above his disapproval rating of 39 per cent.
With confidence beginning to fracture in the delivery of Abe’s economic reform program and uncertainties about where Japan is being led politically — and the normal election term two years out — Abe’s hard political calculation was that it was better to start afresh and try again while you were still ahead than to hope for a turnaround in the next two years. This assessment proved absolutely sound. The Japanese electorate — or those who thought it worthwhile coming out to vote —had nowhere to go except stick with the ruling coalition.
While Abe has his substantial electoral victory, what is far less clear is what his mandate is and whether what those at home and those abroad hope of his administration can or will be delivered.
Read the whole article on East Asia Forum website.
Image by CSIS on Flickr under the CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.CC BY-NC-SA 2.0