7 reasons Japan's snap election matters

In this picture taken on Oct 20, 2017, Party of Hope candidate and former flight attendant Asami Miwa poses next to portraits of her and other candidates in Koshigaya city, Saitama prefecture. Waving her white-gloved hands and bowing to potential voters in drizzly Saitama, an hour north of Tokyo, the 30-year-old Party of Hope candidate is a welcome splash of colour in a sepia-tinged world dominated by men in grey suits. AFP

TOKYO - Japan has voted for another four years of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), as Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's election gambit pays off on a rain-drenched election on Sunday (Oct 22).

The ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) won Sunday's general election on a platform of "protecting Japan". Despite heavy rain from Typhoon Lan, voter turnout - at 53.6 per cent - was up 0.9 point from the historic low in 2014.

The LDP and its coalition partner Komeito together won 313 of the 465 seats up for grabs, giving the bloc a two-thirds "supermajority" in the Lower House. They held 324 of 475 seats previously.

A two-thirds "super majority" of the Diet's lower chamber is the baseline support required to push forward Constitutional amendments.

Here are seven reasons why Sunday's snap election and its electoral outcome matter.


Any party or coalition holding two-thirds of the 465 seats in the Lower House will be able to push forward Constitutional amendments. PHOTO: JAPAN NEWS-YOMIURI

Up for grabs on Sunday are 465 seats in the Lower House, the more powerful chamber in Japan's bicameral parliamentary system.

Any party or coalition that holds a two-third "super majority" in the lower chamber of Parliament will be able to push forward Constitutional amendments. Constitutional reform needs a two-thirds majority in both houses of Japan's parliament before it goes to a national referendum for approval.

The LDP already controls two-thirds of the Upper House seats.

It is no secret Mr Abe and his party want to revise Japan's post-war pacifist Constitution to specify the role of the country's military. Critics worry this could be the start of a slippery slope which eventually leads to a remilitarised Japan, which ultra-nationalistic groups like Nippon Kaigi want. Nippon Kaigi counts among its brethren Mr Abe and several Cabinet ministers.

Mr Abe on Monday (Oct 23) struck a careful tone over the divisive subject of revising the war-renouncing Constitution for the first time in 70 years. The controversy lies in a proposed new clause to the pacifist Article 9, to explicitly define the role of the military.

Despite an earlier target to revise the supreme law of the land by 2020, Mr Abe said this schedule was not cast in stone.

"It is necessary to strive to form a wide-ranging agreement among the ruling bloc (despite it having won a two-thirds majority) and the opposition," he said.

"And then we can aim to win the understanding of the people."

The Lower House is the more powerful of Japan's two legislative chambers as it has the final say over treaties and the passing of the budget. Any Bill that is passed by the Lower House but voted down by the Upper House will still become law if two-thirds of Lower House lawmakers are in favour.


The Japanese economy is expected to continue its winning streak for the seventh straight quarter in the three months ending September. PHOTO: NYTIMES

After nearly five years, Mr Abe's trademark mix of policies appears to have started to bear fruit. A big win for Abe will mean that his "Abenomics" growth strategy centred on loose monetary policy will likely continue.

The labour market is at its tightest in over 40 years, and business sentiment is at a decade-high according to a central bank survey this month.

The world's third largest economy is also expected to grow for the seventh straight quarter in the three months ending September, which will be the longest winning streak since 2001.

All this, and the LDP's expected victory, is good news for investors. As their mood surged, so did the Nikkei 225 index, which on Friday (Oct 20) rose to its highest close since 1996 at 21,457.64.

Even more significantly, the index has posted 14 consecutive trading days of gains - tying an all-time record set in 1961 when Japan's economy was rapidly expanding ahead of the 1964 Tokyo Olympic Games.

Mr Abe said on Monday (Oct 23) the biggest challenge to his trademark "Abenomics" economic policy is the demographic crisis - the double whammy of an ageing population and a shrinking workforce. He pledged to tackle this by proceeding with a twice-delayed sales tax rise from 8 per cent to 10 per cent in October 2019, with part of the additional revenue used for social security measures such as free early education.

After the US pulled out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) multilateral free trade agreement, which Singapore is a part of, Japan and the LDP have taken the lead among the remaining 11 nations to see the pact to fruition.

The TPP is seen as the "gold standard" of trade agreements, and will boost trade and investment links among the countries involved. For Singapore, it opens up links to the fast-growing Latin America, while Singapore firms can also bid for government contracts in other TPP nations.


Mr Abe could be Japan's longest serving prime minister if the LDP wins. PHOTO: REUTERS

The party rules of LDP were amended earlier this year to give Mr Abe a shot at a third term as party chief - and consequently prime minister until 2021.

A big win for LDP on Sunday will secure the 63-year-old leader's position and keep rivals such as Mr Fumio Kishida, 60, and Ms Seiko Noda, 56, at bay as the party votes for its new president in September next year.

Eisaku Sato is Japan's longest-­serving prime minister. He ruled for seven years and eight months from 1964.

Mr Abe, now the third longest-serving PM, has served for six years and a month in two stints as prime minister and would become the longest serving in June 2019.

If Mr Abe does win on Sunday, the grandson of postwar Prime Minister Nobusuke Kishi will most likely to able to preside over the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games which will allow him to use the occasion to celebrate the revival of Japan after a long period of stagnation.

Last week, President Xi Jinping opened the all-important 19th Communist Party Congress with repeated promises to make China recover its place as a global power.

"China stands tall and firm in the east," Mr Xi said on Oct 18 in a speech marked by repeated mentions of Fuxing, or national rejuvenation, and the Chinese Dream.

The leaders of the world's second and third largest economies have yet to hold a bilateral summit.


Japan Ground Self-Defense Force troops descend from helicopters during an annual live-fire exercise at the Higashi-Fuji firing range in Gotemba, on Aug 24, 2017. PHOTO: AFP

Japan has grown more hawkish since Mr Abe took power in late 2012, as he pushes for stronger security legislation within the limits of the war-renouncing Constitution.

The LDP in 2014 reinterpreted the Constitution to grant the Self-Defence Force (SDF) the powers to engage in collective self-defence and go to the aid of an ally under siege.

Mr Abe also mooted the "Proactive Contribution to Peace" framework at Singapore's Shangri-La defence dialogue in 2014 to build a global order and security environment more desirable for Japan.

Under the framework, Japan has more proactively been assisting other nations in Asia and Africa in capacity-building efforts, and has also provided vessels to Vietnam and the Philippines, which have contesting claims in the South China Sea with China.

Japan is also accelerating its push to acquire offensive weapons in the name of defence to ward off any potential strike by North Korea.

The premier has railed against Pyongyang on the campaign trail, vowing to keep a tough stance and backing the US line that "all options" are on the table.

In a speech on Saturday night at Tokyo's Akihabara shopping district, Abe pledged to apply so much pressure on North Korea that the regime would change its ways and ask for negotiations.

"What is needed is strong diplomacy," said Abe, vowing to work with both US President Donald Trump and Russian leader Vladimir Putin to achieve his goal.

"We must not yield to the threat of North Korea," he said.

An LDP win will mean a re-balance of power in North-east Asia as Japan, as well as South Korea, seek more defence spending to counter the growing missile threat from Pyongyang.


Mr Abe and US President Donald Trump often appear to be in amiable terms. PHOTO: REUTERS

The US-Japan alliance has grown in strength under Mr Abe's stewardship since he took charge in December 2012, culminating in reciprocal visits with former US President Barack Obama to Hiroshima and Pearl Harbour last year.

Mr Abe is now arguably the world leader most chummy with incumbent commander-in-chief Donald Trump, and both men have been in lockstep over issues like North Korea.

Other opposition leaders have expressed their unease over Mr Trump's rhetoric.

Japanese reports say the two leaders are going to play golf when the US leader visits Japan as part of his Asia tour early next month.


The hustings started out as a two-horse race between the LDP and the newly-formed Kibo no To (Party of Hope), which is led by Mr Abe's ally-turned-foe, Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike.

Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike during the last day of campaigning for the general elections in Tokyo on Oct 21, 2017. PHOTO: AFP

But it soon became apparent to voters that Kibo no To is practically an ideological carbon copy of the LDP. What also left voters scratching their heads is its vague campaign platform that reeks of populism and is lacking in details. It was dubbed "12 zeroes" to, among other things, rid Japan of hay fever and Tokyo of its rush hour insanity.

Also turning the tide against Ms Koike's favour is how she had turned her back on her initial promise to take in candidates from the splintered opposition Democratic Party (DP). But she later said she will "eliminate" left-leaning DP lawmakers who are unable to stand by Kibo no To's platform of constitutional revision. Those who came on board were also made to ink an ideological oath.

This led the DP's left-leaning faction to launch a left-leaning reformist party of their own, known as the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan (CDP).

Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan leader Yukio Edano delivers a speech for his party candidate in Tokyo, on Oct 21, 2017. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

The CDP has been making waves, surging ahead of Kibo no To in several media surveys.

The CDP has also become Japan's most popular political party on Twitter, with 185,025 followers. This is more than the LDP's 130,000 followers, while Kibo no To has 12,900 followers.


Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe talks with his party's lawmaker Shinjiro Koizumi at the Parliament in Tokyo, Japan, on Sept 28, 2017. PHOTO: REUTERS

Politics is a family business in Japan, where nearly 40 per cent of the LDP's lawmakers are said to be descendants of former politicians.

Among the rising stars to watch this election is Mr Shinjiro Koizumi, the 36-year-old bachelor son of charismatic former premier Junichiro Koizumi. He has been touted as Japan's Macron and a future prime minister candidate since being elected in a 2009 Lower House poll.

Former Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano, 53, who is known for helming press conferences in blue overalls in the wake of the 2011 Fukushima crisis, has also captured media attention as the leader of Japan's newest political party. His Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan (CDP) is a splinter party of former opposition Democratic Party.

Mr Edano has won a back-handed compliment from the most unlikely of supporters - former Tokyo governor Shintaro Ishihara. Mr Ishihara, an ultra-nationalist, praised him for "remaining true to what he believes in".

"He looks to me like a real man," Mr Ishihara said, unlike the "many candidates who ran away and became turncoats".

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