LDP reassumes power in Japan; Abe Cabinet includes "hawkish" ministers

Source:Xinhua Published: 2013-1-3 17:18:51

In the wake of the global economic slowdown, the series of disasters that hit Japan, mounting public debts and decades of crippling deflation, the ouster of novice Democratic Party of Japan(DPJ) and the resurgence of the Liberal Democratic Party(LDP) to power was seen by pundits here as a foregone conclusion.

Although the LDP's victory has been heralded as a "landslide" win, the public support for the LDP during the last election was not as spectacular as portrayed in the media.

Only 43 percent of voters cast their votes for the LDP in single-seat constituencies, with less than 60 percent of eligible voters cast their votes. Put simply, only one quarter of eligible voters voted for the LDP, which in all aspects, cannot be considered a "landslide."

The "third force" parties, some of them just newly-formed garnered little "actual" support although some of their slogans did gain traction. Because of apathy towards the two main parties, the right-leaning third forces began to earn public support for their nationalistic mantras and overt neo-jingoism, as Japan faced changing geopolitical situations.

The Japan Restoration Party (JRP), led by the outspoken ex- Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara and populist Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto, for example,did considerably well despite their highly inflammatory statements that could further isolate Japan from its neighbors.

But while the JRP managed to win 40 proportional seats to the DPJ's 30 and more than two-thirds the number of proportional seats of the LDP's 57 seats and are thus,potentially, a future force to reckon with should their members and affiliates grow, Shinzo Abe, LDP president,has been re-ushered through Japan's revolving door for prime ministers following three years of waiting.

Indeed, Abe and his party's recent rise to power is something of a second-coming for the Japanese public.Abe served as prime minister between September 2006 to August 2007, before a hasty resignation over party scandals and public indignation over social pension data that was lost by his government.

Abe, 58, is now Japan's seventh prime minister in six years. While recent policy speeches and news conferences are not lacking in a fresh, gung-ho attitude and are full of crowd-pleasing hyperbolical assurances,Abe and his newly formed cabinet are under close scrutiny from the electorate and pundits alike.

The second-time Japanese leader and grandson of a former prime minister said in recent news conferences that he intends to keep his sights set firmly on the future and has no interest in placing blame on any perceived ineptitude of the former ruling DPJ.

And while it may be this kind of positive thinking, or at least affirmative public speaking, that helped Abe to easily oust the Democrats in the latest general election, which saw him win 328 of the 478 votes cast, securing his party and its smaller ally New Komeito party the two-thirds majority needed to control the more powerful lower house of Japan's bicameral system of parliament, Abe now has his work cut out for him, political pundits attest.

"We can see from Abe's Cabinet lineup that the 'new'prime minister is scrambling to try and kick start Japan's sluggish economy and his strong-arming of the central bank is perhaps a testament to this," Laurent Sinclair,an independent research analyst for pacific affairs, told Xinhua.

"Abe is leaning on the Bank of Japan (BOJ) to rethink its current monetary policy towards unlimited easing and has even suggested that the law protecting the bank's independence from the government may be changed if the BOJ rejects Abe's insistence it sets a 2 percent inflation target -- this in twine with a host of planned spending on public projects," he said.

Sinclair said that Abe's vision of lifting Japan from decades of debilitating deflation and gargantuan debts that are now more than double the nation's 5 trillion US dollar economy, was the main reason why he appointed another former prime minister to his Cabinet.

"By selecting former Prime Minister Taro Aso, a known fiscal hawk, to be the nation's finance minister, Abe will clearly look to Aso to help Japan revive its ailing economy,"Sinclair added.

Aside from being finance minister, Aso, 72, will also concurrently serve as financial services minister and deputy prime minister, making him one of Abe's closest and most powerful allies in his newly formed Cabinet.

Abe's cabinet lineup, however, has also drawn some flak for entertaining radical ideas that include revising Japan's pacifist constitution and some even calling for Japan to rearm.

The calls, which could certainly rile Japan's neighbors who suffered at the hands of Japan during WWII, centers around Article 9 of the Constitution, which mandates Japan to renounce war -- specifically that, "land, sea and air forces and other war potential will never be maintained."

"Abe has appointed a Cabinet of close allies, many of whom share his right wing views," Japan affairs commentator Kaoru Imori told Xinhua.

Imori said that Yoshihide Suga who was appointed to the top post of chief cabinet secretary as well as Education Minister Hakubun Shimomura are all known supporters of rewriting the Constitution and forging closer ties with the United States on matters of regional security.

Posted in: Asia-Pacific

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