Shinzo Abe wins Japan snap polls: LDP's major victory augurs well for region and India
Most importantly, Japan and the region will see a continuation of policy from Tokyo
The results of Monday's snap election are in and according to reports, Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe's Left Democratic Party (along with its junior coalition partner, the Komeito) is believed to have secured at least 312 seats in the House of Representatives. This is of significance because it means that Abe's alliance now holds a two-thirds majority in both houses of Japan's bicameral legislature, known as the National Diet. The ruling coalition already has a two-thirds majority in the House of Councillors, the less powerful upper house.
Having a so-called 'supermajority' (two-thirds) in both Houses gives them virtually a free hand to push even divisive policies and legislation. Abe, it must be noted, pointed out soon after his massive victory that he would not use his 'supermajority' to push through constitutional changes through Parliament. The note of caution seems appropriate considering the whirlwind few months the prime minister has had.
With the win, Abe has bounced back from the summer, when his support ratings plunged to 30 percent after accusations of government favoritism to people connected to him. For the first time since he took office nearly five years ago, he appeared vulnerable as both party leader and prime minister.
The ruling coalition's victory, though, reflects as much the lack of viable alternatives as support for Abe, a fact that he seemed to acknowledge in post-election comments. Voter turnout stood at just 54 percent, as typhoon rains lashed much of the country.
Nevertheless, now that the ruling coalition has secured its foothold for the near future, there are a few things to consider.
First, Japan and the region will see a continuation of policy from Tokyo. As Abe told NHK, "I think the results reflected the voters' preference for a solid political foundation and their expectations for us to push polices forward and achieve results." Domestic implications aside, what this means is that Japan's position on China is likely to be unchanged.
A look at South Korea — the other US treaty ally in the region that faces somewhat similar issues — after the impeachment of Park Geun-hye is instructive. President Moon Jae-in appears to be changing Seoul's equations with Washington and Beijing. As South China Morning Post points out, "Park was more pro-US in her diplomacy, but had forged a good working relationship with her Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping. Moon vowed to pursue a more independent foreign policy and to redefine Seoul’s relations with both powers, suggesting he was likely to take a more accommodating position towards China and keep distance from Washington."
By claiming the majority, it is expected that Abe will stick to his China policy.
Second and on a similar note, even as South Korea has wavered in its approach to North Korea with Moon's 'dual-track' policy of seeking Pyongyang's denuclearisation coupled with a call for dialogue, the majority in the General Election will allow Abe to stick to his guns.
Third, there's the prickly issue of seeking an amendment to the Constitution, particularly Article IX that reads:
Aspiring sincerely to an international peace based on justice and order, the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes. In order to accomplish the aim of the preceding paragraph, land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained. The right of belligerency of the state will not be recognised.
Ever since Abe came to power in December 2012, he has been at the forefront of an effort to get Japan to move away from its pacifist interpretation of the Constitution. However, making any amendment to the Constitution is a tricky business in Japan. The first step is to secure a two-thirds majority in both Houses of the Diet and the second entails putting the motion up for a public referendum. With China's expansionism in the South China Sea and North Korea's belligerence in the region, it is imperative that Japan be able to defend itself. And even though Abe has stated he will not use the majority to push through constitutional amendments, this resolve will likely hold only for a brief while.
Whether or not the people of Japan give Abe the support he needs to fix Article IX remains to be seen.
For India, Abe's consolidation of power augurs well, because New Delhi can work with him on a variety of levels. From trade to infrastructure and strategy to defence, Abe — chief guest at India's 65th Republic Day parade — has so far been a reliable partner to India.
In July, Japan finally provided all the approvals needed to set the India-Japan nuclear deal in motion. Abe was also in India recently to lay the foundation stone for the Ahmedabad-Mumbai bullet train — a first for India. Further, Abe envisions a security diamond comprising Japan, Australia, the US and India to secure the seas of the Asia-Pacific region. These are interesting facts when viewed in isolation. Put together, they paint the picture of a leader who wants to work with India.
The good news for India is that this will continue. And with the mandate Abe has won, his resolve to push his plans through is likely to increase, even if it doesn't happen immediately.
With inputs from AP
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