News Analysis: Abe's "win by default" indicates bumpy road ahead

Source: Xinhua| 2017-10-25 22:07:20|Editor: liuxin
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TOKYO, Oct. 25 (Xinhua) -- Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's dominance of the political scene will probably carry on after his ruling camp won a two-thirds "supermajority" in Sunday's lower house election, local analysts said.

The victory, nevertheless, largely a "win by default," will also see the prime minister go on struggling with low popularity which would backfire on him if he continues with some controversial policies, they added.


Sunday's election saw the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) secure a stable majority and thus a big win for the prime minister.

While attributing the victory largely to a disparate opposition camp which had little time to fully gear up, and an electorate system that worked in the ruling camp's favor, analysts here also admitted that the victory would boost Abe's chance for winning a third term in the LDP presidential election next autumn.

"It's becoming more or less certain now that Abe will become the longest-serving prime minister in postwar Japan," said Yoichi Funabashi, political analyst and former editor in chief of Asahi Shimbun newspaper, though admitting there are still challenges against Abe inside his party.

The election win naturally helped Abe garner more support within the party, with backing from the LDP's major factions led by Hiroyuki Hosoda and by Taro Aso respectively, and LDP Secretary General Toshihiro Nikai also indicated at a press conference his support for Abe seeking a third term, according to local reports.

Funabashi said the weak opposition was also failing to form a threat to the ruling camp, with the once-main opposition Democratic Party (DP) now splitting into four parts - those joining the Party of Hope, the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan (CDPJ), those running as independents, and the DP members in the upper house of parliament.

"The CDPJ is now the main opposition, with 54 seats in the lower house. But they are still the smallest leading opposition over half a century," said Funabashi.

He added that the biggest challenge for CDPJ is not yet in number of members, but in its deficiency in national policies. "Though it is still too early to tell what kind of policies they are going to formulate in the coming months, judging from the election campaign, they are very singularly focused on constitutional and security issues," said Funabashi.

As for the Party of Hope which shared the LDP's conservative views on constitutional change and security laws, after its fatal mistake of rejecting the liberal wing of the DP, the public's enthusiasm for it has largely ebbed.

The expected enduring dominance of Abe has triggered concerns, with the LDP now controlling all legislative committees of the lower house with a majority of seats.

"Japan still needs to consolidate a major viable opposition party that is able to contend the ruling party and give options to the voters," said Funabashi.


Despite a landslide win for his party, Abe is still facing a low rate of public support which might backfire on him some time, analysts also pointed out.

"The people are still opposed to the Abe administration and Abe. While Abe tries to push forward his policies with the momentum of the election win, his support rate might still drop drastically. There might be much chaos," said Ukeru Magosaki, a former senior official with Japan's foreign ministry.

An Asahi Shimbun election exit poll showed that 47 percent of the voters did not want Abe to stay as prime minister. In a different poll by Kyodo News, 51 percent said they did not trust him.

"The Moritomo scandal, Kake educational institute scandal, economic deterioration, the DPRK issue, cabinet members' scandals, slip of is not known yet from which point the regime will be shaken," said Tase Yasuhiro, political analyst and Nikkei columnist.

"The point is whether there is a possibility that the people will get bored with the Abe administration. People want a stable government for economy's sake, but they also want reform in politics," he added.

Jin Jianmin, senior fellow of Fujitsu Research Institute, pointed out that with the "Abenomics" and Japan's super easy monetary policy carrying on, there might be a superficial bloom for a while, but in the long run, "the ship might sink slowly."

Abe's platform of using revenue generated by the planned 2019 consumption tax hike for welfare policies instead of reducing the nation's monumental public debt, has raised concerns over the further deterioration of Japan's fiscal health, with the nation's debt already well over twice the size of gross domestic product,

In Funabashi's opinion, Abe's relationship with U.S. President Donald Trump, which has been an asset for him in the election, could also backfire on him.

"Abe visited New York to meet Trump even before his inauguration. His gamble is paying off. But we still don't know about Trump's Asian policy and trade policy yet, and judging from the past eight months, they are still worrisome. He could pose serious risks to Abe and Japan and elsewhere," said Funabashi.


Sunday's victory is also expected give the ruling bloc a new impetus to pursue the prime minister's long-term ambition of revising the postwar pacifist Constitution, which could cause further division and chaos among the people, local analysts said.

Abe told a television program after the election that he expects "debates on revising the Constitution to deepen" in the parliament so as to seek more support from various forces on the issue, though adding that there was not time frame set for the debate.

"It is Abe's biggest passion to revise the Constitution. But I think the chance for success is still very slim. I would say it won't happen in the next three or four years," said Funabashi.

He said opposition parties such as the CDPJ will not compromise on this issue, and even the ruling camp force it through the parliament, "the public will be much split up, and at the end of day they may say no. That will be very challenging for the Abe government," said Funabashi.

"The ruling LDP will continue to try to revise the Constitution, but the Komeito party which has been cautious about it will continue to keep the LDP in check. Therefore, discussions on constitutional revision will go on for a long time," said Kazuya Iwamura, commentator from Kyodo News.

"There might also be a chance that during that stretch of time those opposed to changing constitution recover their strength," said Iwamura.

Professor Liu Di of Kyorin University in Tokyo, meanwhile, said that Abe has turned to the flag of "making Japan a normal country" in an attempt to win sympathy.

"The possibility that he might succeed in this could not be ruled out. Abe changing the pacifist Constitution is to challenge the postwar order dominated by the U.S.. In the long run, it might pave the way for Japan to become a military power again," said Liu.