MOSCOW (Sputnik), Tommy Yang — Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is well positioned to introduce revisions to Japan’s pacifist constitution, specifically targeting article 9 that requires the nation to renounce war as a sovereign right, after his ruling coalition scored a sweeping victory in the latest election, experts told Sputnik.
Japan’s ruling coalition, comprising Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and the Komeito party, secured an over two-thirds majority, winning 310 out of 465 seats, in the lower House of Representatives of the nation’s parliament, known as the Diet, according to official election results released on Sunday.
The widely expected easy victory could finally allow Abe to push forward amendments to the Japanese constitution, which has been the goal of the LDP since it was founded in 1955, political experts told Sputnik.
"The new Diet is even more dominated by conservative forces as NHK reports that 371 of 465 Diet members from various parties favor constitutional revision. Abe’s longstanding dream is within grasp because he commands a 2/3 majority in both houses of the Diet, the minimum to pass revisions," Jeff Kingston, the director of Asian Studies at Temple University’s campus in Japan, told Sputnik.
Abe’s LDP released four specific points of its proposed revisions to Japan’s constitution in early October as part of the party’s election pledges. These points include the question of adding a specific mention of the status of the Self-Defense Forces (SDF), as well as a contentious plan to allow suspension of parts of the constitution during a state of emergency.
Kingston believes Abe could still face some hurdles when it comes to specific points on how to revise the Japanese constitution.
"Getting them [Diet members] to agree on what to revise and how to do so may be difficult, but certainly is doable. His [Abe’s] proposal to legitimize the status of the SDF is not an issue with the public, but it remains to be seen exactly how the LDP will proceed. Abe is promising to work with other parties to build a consensus, but even if he doesn't, he will face some resistance from coalition partner Komeito," he said.
The LDP’s proposal to give the prime minister more power during a state of national emergency could be viewed as a threat to democracy, Kingston suggested.
"More controversial is his desire for the power to declare a national emergency that would allow the prime minister to suspend the Diet and rule by cabinet decree. That will encounter more resistance than clarifying the status of the SDF because it represents a potential threat to democracy," he said.
Nevertheless, the Tokyo-based expert argued that Abe has enough tricks in his political arsenal to push forward the constitutional revision.
"Although public opinion now is not in favor of revision, if he pushes revisions through the Diet and holds a national referendum there will be a massive PR campaign to persuade the public to back the proposals and with a little help from Pyongyang and Beijing the chances are fairly good Abe can prevail," Kingston said.
Closer Alliance With the US
Facing growing threats from North Korea’s nuclear arms program, Abe could seek to build a stronger alliance with the United States, after his easy victory in the election, Kingston noted.
"While Abe and fellow conservatives are obsessed with constitutional revision and beefing up security ties with the United States, this agenda doesn’t resonate with a public still waiting for Abenomics [Abe’s promised economic reform] to trickle down. In early November US President Donald Trump will visit Japan. Abe has curried favor with Trump to bolster security ties, but most Japanese worry where this ‘bromance’ may lead. Trump represents all the risks of a closer alliance that keep Japanese awake at night and is the least popular president in memory. Even before his recent saber-rattling rhetoric over the Korean peninsula, Trump's foreign policy had the backing of only 24% of Japanese versus 79% for his predecessor Barack Obama," he said.
Japan’s overall policy toward North Korea is unlikely to change after the election, as Abe could take advantage of his win to boost military spending and closer ties with the United States, political experts suggested.
"I suppose Japan's policy toward North Korea will not change so much, because almost all parties (except the Japanese Communist Party) argue that more pressure should be put on North Korea rather than trying to dialogue with it. Abe will probably seek to increase military spending, such as introducing Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system and tighten the alliance with the United States," Yu Uchiyama, a professor at the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences under the University of Tokyo, who specializes in modern Japanese politics, told Sputnik.
Weak Public Support
Abe’s overwhelming triumph in the election came as a result of weak opposition, as opposed to strong support from the general public in Japan, experts suggested.
"The biggest factor that contributed to the LDP's victory is the fragmentation of the opposition camp. Votes cast against the LDP were dispersed among opposition parties, and the LDP just took advantage of this situation. In other words, I don't think that the voters positively chose Abe. Instead, it is a kind of negative choice in that Abe was chosen because there were no other viable options," Professor Uchiyama from the University of Tokyo said.
Professor Kingston from the Temple University expressed similar views on the election results.
"Abe wins big because the electoral system is rigged in favor of it. Rural voters count more than urban votes where the liberals are stronger. Exit polls show that 51 percent of public doesn’t trust Abe and 49 percent oppose his hardline no dialogue approach to North Korea," he said.
Failed Strategy of Opposition Parties
Hours before Abe’s decision to call for a snap election in Japan was made public on September 28, Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike announced her decision to establish a new opposition party, the Party of Hope, to challenge Abe’s LDP in the election. The inconsistency in Koike’s short-lived campaign led to her party’s disappointing finish in the election, Professor Uchiyama from the University of Tokyo pointed out.
"I think the main reason Koike lost is her inconsistency. While she called her party a ‘generous’ one, she said she would ‘exclude’ liberal (I mean, center-left) politicians from her party. Her platform included lots of policies that seemingly appealed to voters, but the policies were inconsistent with each other," he said.
Uchiyama gave an example that while Koike promised to introduce universal basic income, which would need a huge budget, she also said she would freeze the consumption tax raise scheduled for October 2019.
The Japanese scholar argued that Abe’s strategy of calling for a snap election only worked because of missteps of Koike.
"At the early stage of the campaign, support for the Hope Party was so broad that Abe seemed to be prepared to lose. As the campaign went on, the Hope Party began to lose support mainly because of Koike's inappropriate remarks. Finally, Koike lost not only to Abe but also to [Yukio] Edano, the leader of the newly formed Constitutional Democratic Party. Abe won not because his strategy simply worked, but because there were, so to say, double flip-flops," he said.
The expert concluded that it is possible that members of other opposition parties will gather together around Edano and challenge Abe in the future.