Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was buffeted by gusting headwinds in Sunday’s election for the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly. The ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) suffered a historic defeat, ending up with its lower number of seats ever. Abe and the LDP should take very seriously the Tokyo residents’ angry message that they will never tolerate “Abe politics.”
Abe gave only one stump speech for an LDP candidate running in this election on the last day of the campaign period. This suggests that the prime minister is in a more difficult situation than he was in the previous election, for which he made stump speeches at nearly 30 locations, including those he made before the election campaign began.
In an about-face from the previous Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly election, which Abe referred to as a quasi-national election, he tried to keep the latest election separate from national politics. “I think the regional challenges facing Tokyo residents and topics unique to Tokyo will be major issues in the election,” the prime minister said. Abe apparently wanted to prevent the turmoil in national politics from negatively affecting the Tokyo election.
Although national politics and municipal elections are intrinsically different, it is hard to separate them completely. Rather, the results of Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly elections are becoming a leading indicator to predict the outcome of a subsequent national election.
It is undeniable that the Abe administration’s extremely careless political management turned Sunday’s election into a tough uphill battle for the LDP.
To begin with, the Diet deliberations on the bill to revise the Act on Punishment of Organized Crimes and Control of Crime Proceeds, which criminalize acts of preparation to commit terrorism, were conducted in a heavy-handed manner.
Despite the fact that the public was deeply concerned about the bill because it diverged drastically from the principle of Japan’s criminal law that punishes individuals only after they commit crimes, the ruling coalition steamrolled the bill through the Diet at a plenary session of the House of Councillors by issuing an interim report to bypass a vote on the bill by the chamber’s Judicial Affairs Committee.
Insincere remarks made by Abe and Justice Minister Katsutoshi Kaneda at the Diet also drew fire from the public.
In addition, the government failed to dispel suspicions over the Moritomo and Kake school scandals that political decisions that should be fair and equitable were distorted by “the prime minister’s will” and the preemptive surmising of orders that had not been given. Also, the government is not fulfilling its obligation to properly explaining allegations, ignoring a demand by the opposition bloc to convene an extraordinary session in accordance with the Constitution.
Furthermore, Lower House member Mayuko Toyota, who used to be a member of the LDP but has now left the party, was caught on tape verbally abusing her secretary, and Defense Minister Tomomi Inada made inappropriate remarks about the Self-Defense Forces (SDF) for political gain during a campaign speech.
The prime minister reportedly intends to radically change public sentiments by reshuffling the Cabinet and ousting problematic cabinet ministers soon. He may be hoping to compensate for the major losses his party incurred during the Tokyo election and put the Cabinet approval rating back on a recovery track by rolling out human resources development and other eye-catching policies.
But what is being called into question is the nature of the Abe administration, which makes light of basic principles and democratic procedures. Regaining public confidence will be difficult unless the government changes its nature. There is a limit to what stopgap measures can achieve.