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Early elections in Japan: Abe goes all-in
Early dissolution of parliament and early elections will determine the fate of the Japanese premier
Photo: Tass / VEF Photobank
On Monday, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced that on Thursday at an extraordinary session of parliament he would dissolve the lower house of parliament to hold early elections. Many Japanese observers believe that, in fact, the prime minister launched a risky high-stakes political game that can determine whether he will survive as the leader of Japan.
The Japanese media widely replicate the view that Abe decided to dissolve the parliament ahead of schedule and appoint new elections solely in order to avoid criticism at the autumn extraordinary session by the opposition for a number of political scandals in which he was implicated in recent months. Another motive for his hasty actions is the opposition parties' unwillingness to conduct effective election campaigns.
At the press conference, Abe tried to justify the parliamentary elections scheduled for October 22, which are already widely criticized in the country as an attempt to get a public mandate for his decision to direct the proceeds from the planned increase in the consumer tax on improving education and social security in 2019. This controversial decision was made by the Japanese leader, despite the growing public debt as a snowball.
Abe told a press conference in Tokyo about the rapid decline in the population of the country: "We will make significant investments to solve the serious problems that the working population faces in such areas as the upbringing of children and the care of the elderly." He added: "I will complete this major reform with the help of new bold measures, the cost of which is estimated at about 2 trillion yen." The Prime Minister named the crisis on the Korean Peninsula as the most pressing foreign policy issue. With regard to these two problems, he said in part: "My mission as prime minister is to show strong leadership capabilities at a time when Japan is facing crises stemming from a shrinking population and an escalation of tension around North Korea."
The increase in the consumer tax from 8 to 10%, planned for October 2019, should increase the treasury revenues by more than 5 trillion yen, of which 4 trillion was supposed to be used to pay the state debt. However, Abe intends to launch annually 2 trillion yen from additional revenues for new programs in the field of education and social security, which include free stay in pre-school institutions for children between the ages of 3 and 5 years, as well as providing material assistance to poor young people who would like to receive higher education.
But Abe's new cash expenditures only increase public concern about financial stability in the country in the long term. The fact is that Japan's aggregate public debt, including the debts of the central government, as well as the debts of local administrations, now amount to more than 200% of GDP. This is the worst indicator among the industrialized countries.
As pointed out by Japanese political scientists, early elections at the moment are a risky game that a country's leader can not afford to lose. The failure of the elections will lead to the fact that his current very weak positions in the leadership of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party will continue to deteriorate. This, in turn, will put even greater doubt on his claim for a historic third term as chairman of the party. And the third term on the post of party leader will automatically mean the record for the entire history of the country stay Abe in the Prime Minister's chair, where he sat in December 2012.
However, the prospects for the confident victory of the current Japanese prime minister were seriously challenged by the unexpected statement by the governor of the Tokyo metropolitan prefecture, Tokyo, Yuriko Koike, that she would create and lead a new national political party called Kibo-no-then (the Party of Hope).
According to Koike, she hopes to bring "fresh faces" to Japan's domestic political arena, to cure Japan's "lameness" caused by several decades of economic malaise, and to revive Japan's falling presence in the international arena.
Rare in Japan, the political female star, now rising in the face of the current capital governor, in particular, says: "If you look at the world, bold reforms are happening everywhere, as demonstrated by the reduction in corporate tax undertaken by Presidents Trump and President (France) Macron. Japan lags behind. I believe that Japan needs a force oriented toward real reform. "
Koike rejects criticism of his address about the fact that, to say the flirtation with the national policy will weaken her gubernatorial efforts aimed at reforming the capital. The governor parries attacks against her, claiming that her party's influence on the national political scene will produce a "synergistic effect" that will benefit the inhabitants of Tokyo. According to Koike, her party will achieve such goals as involving more women in production activities and cutting politicians' salaries.
The elections to the prefectural assembly of Tokyo, held in July of this year, had a stunning effect. On them, the ruling Liberal Democratic Party suffered a crushing defeat, and then the regional party headed by Koike Tomin fest-but kai (Tokyo residents in the first place) won 49 from 50 contested deputy seats in the assembly.
For Abe, the length of stay in the prime minister's chair is not the only high stakes in the upcoming parliamentary elections. Their success will also depend on the success of his progress towards the cherished goal of changing the so-called peaceful constitution of Japan.
Currently, the LDP seeks to reach a consensus on the revision of the basic law of the country, numbering 70 years, and to put next year in parliament the issue of a national referendum with a view to amending it. According to Abe, he would like to reconsider the constitution by the year of 2020, in order to formalize the status of the armed forces of the country as a full-fledged army, which are now called the Self-Defense Forces.
By announcing early elections, Abe thus jeopardizes the stay at the helm of the state of the current ruling coalition of the LDP and its junior partner, the Komeito party. Currently, this coalition controls two thirds of the seats in the lower house of parliament. This is the lower threshold necessary for initiating a referendum in the country.
According to Japanese analysts, the LDP will win without great problems at the announced early elections to parliament. At the same time, in their opinion, there may be surprises connected with the appearance of a new party led by Koike and the formation of a united front against Abe by the opposition.
In the third decade of September, a number of notable parliamentarians joined the party headed by Koike, among whom are the current deputy head of the Cabinet Office of the Cabinet of Ministers, Minayunka Fukuda. Kyoko Nakayama - head of the right-leaning party Nippon-no kokoro (Soul of Japan) also intends to go under the wing of Koike. According to published data, the Koiba-created Kibo-no party plans to nominate 57 candidates in 58 single-seat constituencies in Tokyo and its environs.
Another point of uncertainty is the intention of the opposition bloc to nominate single candidates. In the elections to the upper house of parliament last year, four opposition parties, including the Communist Party of Japan, achieved a historic unification of forces against the ruling coalition by nominating single candidates in all 32 single-member districts. At the same time, the opposition received 11 seats, demonstrating that their cooperation brought some success.
Japanese political commentators believe that the key to Abe's victory in the upcoming elections is in the hands of undecided voters, whose share, according to public opinion polls, accounts for 40,8% of the country's entire electorate. In their view, the nuclear crisis on the Korean peninsula will work in favor of Abe, as hesitant voters rely more on the LDP for foreign policy and resolving crisis situations.
At the same time, the widespread opinion that the upcoming elections do not solve anything and are even a political farce arranged by Abe for personal purposes can dampen voters and lead to low turnout in elections. In this case, the LDP can lose a significant number of parliamentary seats in the parliament, which will inevitably generate increased calls within the party to Abe's resignation from the post of party leader in next year's elections.
In this case, the historic record in the form of the third term of office of the head of state will remain the unrealized dream of the Japanese politician. The same fate awaits Abe's other cherished dream, closely related to the first one-to obtain from President Vladimir Putin, whose re-election in the year of 2018 few people, including the Japanese prime minister himself, doubt concessions on the ownership of the four islands of the southern Kuril Islands . They are called in Japan by their "northern territories". After all, in solving the territorial issue in relations with Russia, the Japanese prime minister relies on the personal relations of the two charismatic heads of state.