Abe may offer something for all in snap election

Education funding, staying tough on N. Korea, revising pacifist charter on agenda: Sources

TOKYO • Pledges to spend on education and childcare, stay tough on North Korea and revise Japan's pacifist Constitution are likely to be pillars of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's campaign in a snap election next month, government sources said yesterday.

Mr Abe is considering calling the Lower House election when the legislature convenes on Sept 28, to take advantage of his improved ratings and opposition disarray, said ruling party and government sources.

The Prime Minister, whose ratings have recovered from below 30 per cent in July, is betting that his ruling bloc can, at a minimum, retain a simple majority in the Chamber and, at best, keep the two-thirds super-majority needed to achieve his long-held goal of revising the Constitution to clarify the military's role.

Mr Abe wants to go ahead with a planned rise in the nation's sales tax to 10 per cent from 8 per cent, and use some of the revenue to create a "social security system for all generations", which would invest in education while decreasing the proportion of sales tax revenue used to pay down government debt, the sources said.

Japan's social welfare system is weighted towards spending on the elderly, with people aged 65 and above accounting for 27.7 per cent of the population, according to the latest government data.

"You can promise anything you want - make a nod towards a more equitable society, empowering women, work-life balance, welfare for all generations," said Mr Jeffrey Kingston, director of Asian studies at Temple University Japan. "He's got a strategy that is going to win."

Mr Abe has said he will decide on the snap election after he returns from the United States on Sept 22.

The opposition Democratic Party is struggling with single-digit support and a succession of defections.

While the nascent "Japan First" party, which boasts ties to popular Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike, could be a viable challenger to Mr Abe's government, it has yet to draft a platform, pick candidates or formally register as a party.

That means Mr Abe's Liberal Democratic Party and its junior partner, Komeito, have a shot at retaining their two-thirds majority in the Lower House, according to political analysts.

However, some analysts believe Mr Abe's electoral base could be undermined by voter distaste over suspected cronyism scandals and concerns about a political vacuum forming amid heightened tensions over North Korea's nuclear and missile programmes.

"I don't dismiss the possibility of the voters giving Abe a nasty surprise," said Professor Emeritus Gerry Curtis at Columbia University in New York.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 20, 2017, with the headline 'Abe may offer something for all in snap election'. Print Edition | Subscribe