While everyone has been focused on elections in the Western world, another snap general election was somewhat overlooked in the media. Japan was already suffering a fading economy and difficult mediation with North Korea, when Prime Minister Shinzō Abe called a snap general election.
Yet, the timing seems to have been deliberate. On the one hand, Abe was under heavy questioning in Parliament, and on the other hand, Tokyo’s first female Governor, Yuriko Koike, announced earlier that day that she was forming a new party, Kibo no To (Party of Hope), providing an alternative to Abe’s conservative Liberal Democratic party. Although, earlier in October, Koike announced she was open to form a grand coalition with the LDP.
All national surveys predicted the ruling Liberal Democratic Party to take the lead, and having gained enough momentum to win an absolute single-party majority of 284 seats out of 465 seats in the House of Representatives, whereas Kibo no To struggled to gain support and were expected to win only 50 seats.
Prime Minister Abe has only lost 3 seats in this campaign, while the Hope Party was the clear winner going from 11 to 50 seats. Abe has thus been reappointed as Prime Minister, as it’s the members of the House of Representatives who choose the Prime Minister and appoint a cabinet.
However, some political analysts were arguing surprising results should not be ruled out, as happened previously with the US and UK elections. Perhaps part of the reason those results were unexpected was that 30% of respondents to opinion polls declined to actually to name a candidate or party they planned to support.
The losers of the election are without doubt the left, as opinion polls suggested that it would be unlikely the Japanese Communist Party would win back all of their seats, and indeed, they lost 9 seats, dropping to a total of 12. Meanwhile, the Social Democratic Party barely won two.
Further tensions with North Korea should be expected, as Abe will continue his ‘strong diplomacy’ that has increased tensions between the two nations. Abe is also still entitled to continue his plan to revise Article 9 of the Japanese constitution. This currently restricts Japan to a solely defensive military role and was a key proviso of the post-World War Two peace settlement. It has led to complicated relationships with the United States and its current, often less than diplomatic, leader.
Shinzō Abe is already the third longest-serving Japanese Prime Minister in post-war times, having briefly held office in 2006-2007 and his latest stint in power dating back to 2012. The policy initiatives which Abe has supported while in office include a controversial toning down in school textbooks of Japanese-inflicted atrocities during imperial times, and an ever-burgeoning relationship with Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi. At least partly drawn to each other by their shared territorial confrontations with China, the beginning last month of construction of a planned bullet train route in India, to be almost entirely paid for by Japan, indicates the close ties they’ve formed together.
Still, if this had been the next big political shock, and the Liberal Democratic Party lost the election, Abe would have been expected to resign, as he had promised to in such a scenario. Additionally, Japan might be now engaging in a slightly different political direction in dealing with North Korea and the economic pressures the country also currently faces.