Abe poised to call snap election for Lower House

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe speaks to journalists upon his arrival at the prime minister's official residence in Tokyo, Japan, on Sept 15, 2017.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe speaks to journalists upon his arrival at the prime minister's official residence in Tokyo, Japan, on Sept 15, 2017. PHOTO: EPA

Japanese PM likely to leverage on rebound in support for LDP

A snap election might be called in Japan as early as next month, as Prime Minister Shinzo Abe appears inclined to leverage on a rebound in support for his Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) after what has been a bruising year.

The poll for the 475-seat Lower House is not due until December next year. But Mr Abe has discussed the gambit with officials from the LDP and coalition partner Komeito, domestic media reported yesterday.

"All the Lower House members have now come to believe that the timing of a poll is not so distant," LDP General Council chairman Wataru Takeshita said.

Mr Abe's approval ratings, which were under 30 per cent just two months ago, have climbed to 50 per cent in some polls, in a boost helped partly by public jitters over North Korea.

The embattled Prime Minister had also reshuffled his Cabinet by dropping gaffe-prone ministers, and vowed to revise bureaucratic procedures after he was embroiled in two cronyism scandals and the Defence Ministry came under fire for covering up sensitive data.

The main national opposition Democratic Party is meanwhile in utter disarray after a divisive internal leadership election this month, and is facing an exodus of lawmakers.

ABE'S PREDICAMENT

Mr Abe is caught in a dilemma. If he wants to amend the Constitution, he has to put off the dissolution as long as possible. But the longer he puts this off, the more likely he will lose power.

DR YU UCHIYAMA, of the University of Tokyo, on Mr Shinzo Abe's difficult position.

Polling Day could be on Oct 22 - when three Lower House seats in Aomori, Ehime and Niigata prefectures are up for a by-election - or on Oct 29, reports said.

Alternatively, the election could take place after United States President Donald Trump makes a scheduled visit to Japan in November.

Newly elected Democratic Party president Seiji Maehara, a former foreign minister, yesterday accused Mr Abe of "selfishness" as a poll would mean dissolving the Diet, leading to a political vacuum amid the heightened North Korean threat.

The LDP, which was hammered in the Tokyo assembly poll in July by local upstart party Tomin First no Kai (Tokyoites First), is unlikely to face a repeat, analysts said, despite the Tokyo election historically being a barometer for nationwide trends.

Tomin First was led by popular Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike, who on Saturday criticised Mr Abe's signature economic policy mix Abenomics for "failing to produce an actual feeling of growth or hope".

She is supporting her ally Masaru Wakasa, who is setting up a new national party and has expressed his intent to field candidates at the next Lower House poll. But if an election is called soon, he will not get the time nor the momentum to gather candidates.

A victory will grant Mr Abe, who has been in power since December 2012, a third consecutive term after LDP rules were changed this year to let him stay at the helm.

"Mr Abe has a clear upper hand at this moment," said East Asia expert Lim Tai Wei from the Singapore University of Social Sciences. "He is demonstrating how he is a survivor in the realm of Japanese politics."

But even if Mr Abe and the LDP hold onto power, the LDP may lose its two-third majority in the Lower House, whose support is needed for Mr Abe to revise the pacifist Constitution.

Dr Yu Uchiyama of the University of Tokyo said: "Mr Abe is caught in a dilemma. If he wants to amend the Constitution, he has to put off the dissolution as long as possible. But the longer he puts this off, the more likely he will lose power."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 18, 2017, with the headline 'Abe poised to call snap election for Lower House'. Print Edition | Subscribe