Abe needs diplomatic boost to buoy sinking popularity after election loss

By Chen Yang Source:Global Times Published: 2017/7/6 19:28:39

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

The Tokyo Citizens First Party (TCFP) led by Yuriko Koike, the Tokyo governor, had become the biggest force in the assembly, winning 49 seats after the July 2 Tokyo Metropolitan assembly election. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) won only 23 seats compared to the previous 57 seats. Commenting on the historic defeat in the election, Abe told the media that he would "profoundly reflect upon" it.

Other than elections for the Japanese national assembly, only the Tokyo Governor election and the Tokyo Metropolitan assembly election will draw the attention of all the parties. Past Metropolitan assembly elections have been bellwethers for national trends, so the result of the Tokyo Metropolitan assembly election will have far-reaching influence on Japan's political landscape.

Of course, the crushing defeat of Abe's LDP isn't equal to an immediate collapse of Abe's rule, but at minimum it has undermined the morale of the LDP and greatly impacted Abe's position as the center of the party.

If Abe fails to become the leader of the LDP in the next party election scheduled in September 2018 or the LDP suffers another loss in the general election of the House of Representatives, Abe's wish to extend his tenure to 2021 and his attempt to amend the Constitution of Japan will be empty talk.

Since his return to the prime minister's office at the end of 2012, Abe has led the LDP to win four major national elections in succession. There are two reasons for the setback the LDP encountered in the Tokyo Metropolitan assembly election.

Abe's government has neglected public opinion on many issues. On June 15, Abe's government forcibly passed the Anti-terror Conspiracy Law in Congress. The bill could lead to the government's excessive oversight and suppression of civil rights, accelerating the pace of Japan toward a "society of surveillance." This aroused strong resentment among the Japanese people.

At the same time, two scandals related to education and influence peddling, the Moritomo Gakuen incident and the Kake Gakuen incident, greatly reduced the public's trust in Abe's government.

According to a poll released by the Asahi Shimbun on July 3, the public support rate for Abe's cabinet fell to 38 percent, while the objection rate increased to 42 percent. Although in recent years, Abe has made achievements in economic and diplomatic fields, the public will not tolerate the recent scandals. The result of the election reflected Japanese people's discontent with his administration.

Apart from Abe's scandals, the TCFP led by Koike provided people with a new choice, another reason for the LDP's defeat.

Since Abe took office the second time in 2012, his public support rate has greatly outweighed support for other opposition parties. The main reason for this phenomenon is that the Japanese people have no alternative.

However, the bold reform and resolute determination of Koike since she became Tokyo governor last year made the Japanese people find her a trusted leader. Consequently, the party of Koike won people's support, although many of its members lack political experience.

In view of the current situation, the TCFP's participation in next year's election of the House of Representatives will probably change the political situation in Japan.

Finally, the defeat in the Tokyo Metropolitan assembly election will prompt Abe to try to regain people's support by improving the economy and diplomatic relations. The economy can't be improved in a day, so Abe will focus on diplomacy. For example, he will show his diplomatic ability at the G20 summit talks to be held this weekend. Talks between China and Japan have not been confirmed, and other talks will only bring limited political dividends to Abe.

The Asahi Shimbun reported that the hope of the Japanese government to hold talks with Chinese and South-Korean leaders in late July will not be realized. Abe may officially announce plans to join the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank or the Belt and Road initiative in order to promote the relationship with China.

After all, it is a better relationship with China that can truly help Abe's government to get out of its current political dilemma.

The author is a PhD candidate with the Tokyo-based Toyo University. opinion@globaltimes.com.cn


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