Abe’s victory solidifies his political standing amidst polarisation

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has recorded a landslide victory in the snap poll by securing 312 seats in the 465-seat lower house of Japanese Parliament. Liberal Democratic Party along with a small coalition partner, Komeito, passed the barrier of 310 seats for a two-third majority. This will consolidate Abe’s position and political standing and has given him fair chances to win another three-year term next September as the leader of the Party. Thus, it could extend his premiership to 2021.

The lower house chooses the Prime Minister which is relatively more powerful however, Abe’s ruling coalition already has the two-thirds majority in the upper house. Thus, it will give the Prime Minister a free hand to push decisive policies and legislations.

Japan has a bicameral legislature named the National Diet comprising the House of Representatives, the lower house and the House of Councilors, the upper house. Both houses are directly elected under parallel voting systems (a mixed electoral system where voters participate in two separate elections for a single house using different systems, and where the results in one election have little or no impact on the results of the other). The role of National Diet is not only to make laws but it is also formally responsible for selecting the Prime Minister. The Diet was first convened as the Imperial Diet in 1889 as a result of adopting the Meiji Constitution. The Diet took its current form in 1947 upon the adoption of the post-war constitution and is considered by the Constitution to be the highest organ of state power.

The Japanese Prime Minister had dissolved the lower house and called for snap polls earlier this year in a bid to regain power which will allow him to pursue his policies with relation to North Korea, his ties with the US, his monetary policy and push for nuclear energy.

Snap poll is a form of election in parliamentary system of governance which is called when not required either by law of convention. It is a kind of strategic political move by the Prime Minister to capitalize on a unique electoral opportunity to win elections and to take decision on an important issue.

The Japanese Prime Minister had earlier described the threats from North Korea as a national crisis, and hence he aligned with the US against it. Certainly, his win in the snap poll will empower him to increase pressure together with the US on North Korea.

A significant aspect of the election was that though two new parties did emerge but they failed to garner much support. The Opposition in the House will be the newly formed Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan and the newly launched Party of Hope. These two won 54 and 49 seats respectively. This exemplifies that the Opposition shall remain in disarray in the National Diet. This situation will enthuse Abe to go ahead to fulfil his aim to amend the Constitution of Japan. Abe has a long-standing aim of amending the war-renouncing Article 9 of the Constitution of Japan, 1947.

Article 9 says:

  • Aspiring sincerely to an international peace based on justice and order, the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes.
  • In order to accomplish the aim of the preceding paragraph, land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained.
  • The right of belligerency of the state will not be recognized.

The Constitution of Japan provides that an amendment shall be passed only by the two-thirds majority of both the Houses followed by a public referendum. Earlier, Abe had set a goal to review the constitution in 2020 however, he retracted and now perhaps wants to do it at the earliest. So far as, majority in Parliament is concerned, Abe’s coalition enjoys it but the people of Japan are polarized on the issue of revision of the Constitution. The supporters of Abe’s proposal view the Constitution as the legacy of Japan’s defeat in World War II. On the contrary, the opponents view it as the basis of Japan’s peace and democracy. Certain changes were made in 2015 allowing for limited collectrive self-defence or, aiding an ally under attack. However, these changes were protested heavily.

Abe has argued that Article 9 of the Constitution ion its present form does not clarify the legal status of the Self-Defence Force (SDF) of Japan which if not amended could lead to confusion in a crisis. However, probably people of Japan are not ready for it. His electoral victory and people’s opposition to his idea of review of the constitution is sometimes referred as ‘Abe-Paradox.’

Thus, despite people’s free will in the elections, there are signs of existing polarisation in the politics of Japan.

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