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Editorial: The Abe administration has not obtained a full mandate

What was all the commotion in the past month about? The hastily-called House of Representatives election ended with the ruling and opposition forces holding about the same number of seats they held before the election. While the candidates must have fought desperately for their survival, they hardly presented viable choices that the voters could agonize over.

 

Democratic Party (DP) President Seiji Maehara bears the most serious responsibility. It was indeed an outlandish scheme for the No. 1 opposition party to make a decision to merge with the newly founded Party of Hope on the very day the dissolution of the Lower House was announced, even considering the party’s languishing support ratings.

 

The voters immediately saw through this as an election strategy, so most DP candidates who went over to the Party of Hope counting on a repeat of the success in the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly election in July were forced to fight an uphill battle in the campaign.

 

Yuriko Koike, who founded the new party, also behaved in an inscrutable manner. While her remark about “rejecting” some DP members from her party was roundly criticized, we have no complaint about this because it is quite natural for politicians sharing common policies to group together.

 

Yet, she did not run as a candidate even though she suddenly came out to “reset” the efforts that her “alter ego,” Masaru Wakasa, was making to establish the new party. The election stopped being an election to choose a government. She might have overestimated her own influence after her victories in the Tokyo gubernatorial election and the Metropolitan Assembly election.

 

As the election campaign entered the homestretch, another new party, the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan (CDPJ), gained momentum. This phenomenon was touted by some as the “revival of the liberals,” but this seems to be a premature conclusion.

 

The people who founded the CDPJ were those who were not allowed to join the “reformist conservative” Party of Hope. Some of the candidates who won for the first time are former members of the defunct Japan Socialist Party, so the party, no doubt, is leftist rather than middle-of-the-road.

 

Yet, its members are actually not in total agreement even on the issue of constitutional revision. The party’s success may have been a one-off because it won votes not on account of its policies but on account of the voters’ tendency to support the underdog and their desire to vote against the Abe administration.

 

What happened in this election can be summed up in one phrase: “the opposition’s self-destruction.” The ruling parties achieved victory partly because they benefited from the opposition candidates’ rivalry among themselves in many constituencies. Therefore, they are seriously mistaken if they think of this as the “ruling parties’ victory” or a “full endorsement of the Abe administration.”

 

While the voters indeed voted for the LDP-Komeito administration, this was simply a form of passive support because they thought the administration was still a better option than the opposition. The ruling parties must have learned a big lesson from the Tokyo Assembly election that if an alternative is available, such support will easily evaporate.

 

Major opinion polls show that support for the Abe cabinet, which went up temporarily after the reshuffle of the cabinet and the LDP leadership in August, dropped again during the election campaign. In most polls, the disapproval rating overtook the support rating and the reason cited for not supporting the cabinet continued to be “the Prime Minister is not trustworthy.”

 

It is obvious that distrust of the administration arising from the Moritomo and Kake affairs has not disappeared. The LDP and Komeito must not be carried away by their electoral victory and think that they have been “absolved.”

 

In light of the victory in the Lower House election, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe may be elected for a third term as LDP president next September and continue to hold power until 2021. His will become the longest serving administration in constitutional history.

 

The question is whether it will be able to make achievements deserving of such a long reign. It is almost five years since Abe made his political comeback. Abenomics, for instance, is still only “halfway” there, or “at its seventh stage [out of 10 stages].” Most citizens do not really feel that their lives have become better.

 

What will Abe use his enormous political power for? It is the responsibility of the political authorities to revitalize the economy and safeguard the people’s livelihoods. He must not pursue only his longstanding dream of revising the constitution while forgetting about the fundamental basis of politics. (Slightly abridged)

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