Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was voted back to power on Sunday by a comfortable majority in a snap election called in the backdrop of some belligerent moves by North Korea, including firing a missile over its neighbour.
Public broadcaster NHK reported that Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party and its allies had secured two-thirds of the seats in the lower house of Parliament.
The result is a major turnaround in the fortunes of Abe who was dogged by a series of scandals that had battered his popularity. In the midst of the scandals, he had adopted a hawkish strategy toward North Korea. He began pushing for amending the constitution to free the military of the constraints imposed after World War II.
It appears that Abe took the opposition by surprise by calling for snap elections. The opposition parties were neither prepared with alternative policies and proposals, nor with any sort of plan to take on Abe in the elections. Abe’s proposal to amend the constitution was the major issue in the campaign.
Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike was expected to mount a serious challenge to Abe, but was not prepared for snap elections. Her chances dimmed further when she decided not to run for office. But she damaged the prospects of other parties by splitting the opposition votes.
In Japan, the candidate who gets the most votes in a constituency is declared the winner. In the run-up to the elections, a number of parties emerged. The opposition vote was split among their candidates. This ensured a comfortable victory for candidates of the incumbent Liberal Democratic Party in most of the constituencies.
Under the circumstances, the vote for the Liberal Democratic Party seems to be a victory by default or, at best, an expression of a desire for stability rather than an endorsement of Abe’s policies and proposals.
Abe may have been pushed by US President Donald Trump’s call for Japan to defend itself rather than depend on the Americans. But he will need to get the nation behind him for the amendment to the constitution. Sunday’s victory will only ensure that he has until 2021 to persuade the Japanese to back his proposal to amend the constitution.
The question is whether this look outward policy will have any impact on the other major problem facing Japan — an aging population. The aging population is also putting a strain on the economy. The lack of growth or positive movement in the economy has been weighing in on the island nation for the major part of this decade.
What the Japanese now have is continuity and stability in government for the next four years.
If not for North Korea’s acts of hostility, the Japanese would be busy preparing to host the Olympics in 2020, which is expected to boost the economy.