Owen Cuskelly reports on the sudden general election for Japan
On 25th September, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced that a general election is to take place, over a year earlier than previously thought. The election campaign, scheduled for 22nd October, will centre around Abe’s new ideas for distributing revenue from a future increase in Japan’s sales tax. Hostilities between North Korea and Japan are also a contributing factor to the election’s calling according to Abe.
Opponents of the prime minister and his Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) remain sceptical surrounding the true intentions of the election, however, with critics saying Abe’s change of heart regarding the use of new tax revenue is simply a cover-up. Previously, the LDP intended to use ¥5 trillion (€38 billion) generated from a 2% increase in Japan’s sales tax in 2019 to pay off some of the country’s staggering national debt. Abe has backtracked on this now signalling that he aims to direct ¥2 trillion (€15 billion) of this money towards investment in childcare and higher education instead to cure Japan’s ageing population and shrinking workforce.
On the North Korean threat, Abe is known for maintaining a hyper-nationalistic stance. He champions the cause of removing elements of pacifism from the Japanese constitution. The pacifist nature of Japan’s constitution originates from its creation in 1947 when the United States wanted to curb any chance of Japan posing a threat to national security. On top of this, tensions arose recently following two incidents of North Korean missiles being fired over northern Japanese territories. This provides Abe with a talking point to highlight the significance of this constitutional change in defence matters.
On the North Korean threat, Abe is known for maintaining a hyper-nationalistic stance. He champions the cause of removing elements of pacifism from the Japanese constitution.
The LDP is expected to retain a majority with their coalition party, Komeito, but this majority is all but certainly going to lower. The LDP’s main opponents are found in the Democratic Party, which have an unstable party leadership. They are a small force in comparison to the LDP’s current two-thirds majority in parliament. The establishment of a new national party was declared in Tokyo hours before Abe announced the snap election by a former LDP member and Tokyo’s current mayor, Yuriko Koike. This new party, Kibo no To (‘Party of Hope’), aims to oust the Democratic Party as the main opposition in parliament and rob the LDP of seats. Kibo no To is essentially an amplified version of a regional party, Tomin First no Kai (‘Tokyo Residents First’), which was founded earlier this year to contest local elections taking place in Tokyo.
Prior to the calls for election, the LDP floundered in relatively recent opinion polls amid months of scandals surrounding the prime minister. One such scandal emerged when that a veterinary science department was fast-tracked to be established in a private university, Okayama University of Science, which is owned by a friend of Abe’s, Kotaro Kake. This occurred despite the Ministry for Education rejecting previous applications for a new veterinary department there; hinting at senior governmental influence.
Preceding this, another controversy emerged in early 2017. An educational group called Moritomo Gakuen, which sought to erect a kindergarten school in Osaka, a Midwestern city in Japan reportedly received public land at an 80% discount. It is also speculated that the Ministry for Finance facilitated the land deal. The prime minister’s wife, Akie Abe, fueled controversy after rejecting her position as honorary principal of the school following the emergence of allegations in February. The educational group was found to advocate teachings and principles of pre-World War nationalism in its planned Osaka school.