Abe era may be ending as popularity plummets

By Lian Degui Source:Global Times Published: 2017/7/20 19:38:39

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

After a defeat in the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly election, the Shinzo Abe administration's support rate continues declining. The latest polls show the rate has dropped to 29.9 percent. The Abe administration has entered into a difficult period. In order to halt the slide, Abe announced that he would reshuffle his cabinet in early August.

Approval ratings are the lifeblood of Japanese politics. In the past, Abe insisted on his right-wing policies, encouraged by his high support rate. However, with Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike's victory in the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly election, voters, tired of Abe's autocratic manner and cronyism, have found an alternative to Abe. It is worth noting how this change will affect Japanese politics and diplomacy.

First, the current order in Japanese domestic politics may face a shakeup. Since Abe came to power, his Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) has won four consecutive victories in relevant elections, underscoring Abe's unrivaled grip on power over the ruling party.

However, after the failure in the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly election, some people in the LDP began to criticize Abe in public. For the cabinet reshuffle planned in August, Abe will have to maintain a balance among different factions and his influence will be contained.

Apart from that, next year's LDP presidential election may smash Abe's dream for extending the maximum tenure of the LDP presidency from six years over two terms to nine years over three terms. Abe's potential rivals such as Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida have urged the LDP to be aware of its dire situation. Abe's ally Taro Aso, Japan's deputy prime minister, has formed a new faction, which has become the second-largest faction in the ruling LDP. It seems that Aso is making preparations for recapturing the position of prime minister.

In addition, Abe's plan for amending the Japanese constitution will be influenced. Low support ratings will affect Abe's right-wing ideology.

Although Abe has insisted on revising the constitution, he now speaks of adding to it rather than revising it. Abe wants to add a clause to end the debate about whether the existence of the Japan Self-Defense Forces goes against the constitution.

But adding a clause in the constitution must follow the provisions of the constitution, which requires two-thirds approval in both chambers of the bicameral national Diet, and the approval from the majority of the people in a national referendum. The Abe administration may not win the two-thirds approval in both chambers of the Diet for a constitutional amendment, and Abe's plan for a national referendum will not be realized.

Third, Japan's relations with other countries will face challenges. The US withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade pact caused a huge impact on Abe. At the end of last year, Russia's President Vladimir Putin visited Japan. The two countries' leaders discussed joint economic activities on the Southern Kurils (known as the Northern Territories in Japan). However, Russia-Japan relations are progressing slowly.

Under the present situation, seeking an improvement in Sino-Japanese relations would be a good choice for Abe. Some people think that Abe may play the "China threat" card again. However, if Japanese voters think the continued deterioration of bilateral relations will not benefit Japan, Abe's rule would come to an end more quickly. Therefore, a rational choice for Abe may be that he should try his best to improve Japan's relations with China and realize an exchange of visits between the two countries' leaders for regional peace and stability, thus notching a diplomatic achievement.

China and Japan are both Asian countries, and have responsibilities for maintaining peace in the region. China hopes that the Abe administration can look at the relationship between the two countries from the perspective of regional peace. Sino-Japanese relations should not be subject to the influence of domestic politics, especially the influences of an individual's doctrines. The development of bilateral relations should regard peace and the well-being of the two countries' peoples as the highest aim.

The author is a professor of the School of Japanese Studies at the Shanghai International Studies University. opinion@globaltimes.com.cn


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