The ruling coalition of the Liberal Democratic Party and its junior partner, Komeito, retained its crushing majority in the Lower House in the Oct. 22 election as voters chose to keep Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in power.
Abe has won the “power game” he initiated by dissolving the Lower House for a snap poll without a good reason in an obvious political ploy to escape attacks over the scandals involving two school operators with connections to him–Moritomo Gakuen and the Kake Educational Institution.
But there are evidently diverse views and opinions among the voting public, which has given Abe a fresh mandate to govern the nation. We see some wide gaps between the election outcomes and the findings of opinion polls conducted during the campaign period.
GAPS BETWEEN ELECTION RESULTS AND POLL FINDINGS
In the latest Asahi Shimbun survey, 34 percent of the respondents said they wanted to see Abe continue serving as prime minister, while 51 percent didn’t want to.
In the same survey, 73 percent of the polled said it was “not good” that the LDP had overwhelming strength in the Diet, against 15 percent who said it was “good.”
Also, 37 percent of the pollees expressed their desire to see the government continue to be led by the LDP, while 36 percent said they wished to see a party other than the LDP come to power.
These findings portrayed a voting public preferring a better balance of power between the ruling and opposition camps to the LDP’s political dominance, which appears to have made the ruling party arrogant and undisciplined.
Then, why has the LDP won a landslide majority in the Lower House again?
One factor behind the LDP’s huge victory is the system of single-seat constituencies, which tends to drown out minority voices. But that is not the only, or even the biggest, reason.
The principal factor is probably the manner the two key opposition leaders responded to the power game initiated by the prime minister. Seiji Maehara, head of the Democratic Party, and Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike, who leads the new Kibo no To (Hope), adopted their own political expedient, which was also a form of power game, in response to Abe’s maneuvering.
Many members of the troubled Democratic Party tried to save their Diet seats by flocking to the Hope party, to ride the surging wave of Koike’s popularity. But the Tokyo governor shut the door on Democratic Party lawmakers who failed to pass a political litmus test to assess potential candidates’ sympathy with her policy agenda.
In desperate attempts to join Koike’s camp, a number of Democratic Party members abandoned their commitment to key policies of their party, including the demand that the national security legislation enacted in 2015 be repealed and opposition to constitutional amendments in line with the legislation’s aims.
These lawmakers went so far as to compromise their political consistency to save their parliamentary jobs.
Their behavior must have earned them the distrust of many voters.
In the Asahi Shimbun poll, 55 percent of the respondents expressed support for proposals to freeze the scheduled consumption tax hike and phase out nuclear power generation.
The Hope party promised these two measures in its campaign platform. As the party’s commitment to its policy promises was called into question, however, it had no chance of winning over the public no matter how hard it may stress these policies.
The moves made by Maehara and Koike also gummed up the efforts to build up a broad opposition coalition to challenge the ruling camp’s grip on power through one-on-one battles in single-seat constituencies.
As a result, opposition candidates found themselves competing with each other for votes against the ruling coalition in many constituencies in a situation that only worked in favor of the ruling alliance.
VOTERS SUPPORT A CONSISTENT OPPOSITION GROUP
From this point of view, the election results should be seen more as a defeat of the opposition parties than as a victory of the ruling camp.
Some five years since the government led by the Democratic Party of Japan, the predecessor of the Democratic Party, crumbled, the largest opposition bloc disintegrated before even coming close to achieving its goal of becoming a viable alternative to the ruling coalition.
The collapse of the Democratic Party has had serious political repercussions.
When the ruling camp enjoys an overwhelming majority in the Diet, a fragmented opposition cannot hope to act as an effective watchdog of the administration. The situation inevitably erodes the healthy and necessary tension in politics.
What the opposition parties need to do now to respond to public expectations is to confront the political reality and seek to rebuild their cooperation in both elections and Diet activities.
One important question the opposition parties should ask themselves is why the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan (CDP), a Democratic Party splinter group established by Yukio Edano, a former deputy president of the party, expanded its parliamentary strength so sharply. The CDP was shut out of the power game.
People’s tendency to root for the underdog was probably at play.
In addition, the way the new party demonstrated its commitment to the Democratic Party’s political philosophy and policies and also to the notion of broad opposition coalition must have struck a responsive chord in many Japanese.
Edano described the election as the choice between top-down politics and bottom-up, grassroots-driven politics. His promise to respect the rights of individuals and the democratic process could enable the party to serve as an alternative to the Abe administration’s political approach.
What does Abe intend to achieve by using the new massive political capital he has gained?
The LDP’s campaign platform included specific proposals to amend the Constitution for the first time. But Abe didn’t refer to constitutional amendments, which has been his long-cherished political goal, in his campaign speeches and instead focused on the situation surrounding North Korea’s nuclear arms and missile programs as well as the “fruits” of his economic policy known as “Abenomics.”
His campaign strategy provoked a strong sense of deja vu, reminiscent of how he focused on economic issues in recent elections then pushed through controversial legislative initiatives after the polls, including the state secrets protection law, the national security legislation and the “anti-conspiracy” law.
This time, Abe will soon start all-out political efforts to rewrite the Constitution.
ABE HAS NO CARTE BLANCHE
But Abe should not have the wrong idea about the public will. Democratic elections don’t give the victor a carte blanche.
Abe would be grossly mistaken if he thinks the voting public has approved of all the aspects of his administration’s performance in the past five years and given him a free hand.
Abe’s self-righteous stance was reflected in how he called the election.
After ignoring an opposition demand for an extraordinary Diet session based on Article 53 of the Constitution for three long months, Abe dissolved the Lower House at the outset of the Diet session finally convened before it even started deliberations.
The ruling coalition’s majority was won after unseemly political maneuvering that made a mockery of both the Constitution and the Diet. This should never be forgotten.
Public opinion is also divided over constitutional amendments. In the Asahi Shimbun survey, 37 percent of the respondents expressed support for the LDP’s proposal to define the legal status of the Self-Defense Forces in Article 9 of the Constitution, while 40 percent displayed opposition to the idea.
Hurried, careless debate on this sensitive issue could deepen the division among the people.
Constitutional amendments require a sufficient amount of nonpartisan, thoughtful debate at the Commissions on the Constitution of both houses backed by the understanding of the people with whom resides sovereign power.
Before considering amendments to the Constitution, the newly elected representatives of the people should first make serious efforts to uncover the whole truth of the Moritomo and Kake scandals.
Abe has yet to deliver on his promise to provide detailed and careful explanations about allegations against him.
This is a matter that concerns the fairness and impartiality of administrative actions and decisions. The electoral victory should not allow the ruling camp to declare an end to the investigations into the scandals.
It is now vital for this nation’s leader to seek sincere and in-depth dialogue and debate to heal and ride out the division among the people.
Abe can take a good first step in that direction by leading the efforts to correct his administration’s political arrogance and restore its discipline.