Opinion / Op-Ed Contributors

Japan election adds risks

By Wang Ping (China Daily) Updated: 2012-11-26 08:03

Japan election adds risks

Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda officially dissolved the House of Representatives on Nov 16 and there will be a general election on Dec 16. However, neither the ruling Democratic Party of Japan nor the opposition parties are well positioned ahead of the elections. Japan's politics are a muddle with some political parties just debuting and some political forces in the process of planning new political parties.

Over the past six years, Japan has had six prime ministers, and the coming election is likely to usher in a seventh, as it is a long shot that Noda will win. Moreover it is highly unlikely that the DPJ will be the biggest party in the National Diet.

In the 2009 elections, the opposition DPJ defeated the long-dominant Liberal Democratic Party, bringing about a "change in dynasty" and offering hope of a "two-party system" in Japan. However, the DPJ has failed to fulfill a number of policy promises it made to the Japanese people, and there are fractions within the DPJ and a number of party members have resigned.

The number of seats held by the DPJ in the lower house had fallen to 233 at the time Noda announced the dissolution of parliament. It held 308 seats when it came into power in 2009. Only if a party has a majority in the 480-seat lower house can it form the cabinet alone. Therefore, the DPJ has only been able to get key bills through with the collaboration of the LDP, the main opposition party. Meanwhile, in the House of Councilors, the DPJ's status as the biggest party can be replaced at any time, this is the fundamental reason that it cannot stay in power. In next month's general election, the DPJ cannot retain the current number of seats and the possibility that it will lose 100 seats cannot be ruled out.

The LDP will continue to cooperate with the New Komeito Party and the two now hold 139 seats in the House of Representatives. That number is likely to rise to 200 in the upcoming election, but it will be hard for them to gain a majority. So, in the next general election no single political party will gain a majority and Japan's future political landscape will unfold in one of several different ways.

If the LDP becomes the biggest party, then which party it will unite with and who will serve as the prime minister will be the focus. In 1994, the LDP, as the biggest party but without a majority, formed a coalition government for the first time with its rival the Social Democratic Party of Japan and, Tomiichi Murayama, head of the SDPJ, defeated the LDP candidate to become prime minister.

But with Japanese politics in a third round of deviation to the right and the immaturity of the two-party system, a "third force" has emerged in Japanese politics, as former Tokyo governor Shintaro Ishihara and the mayor of Osaka, Toru Hashimoto, have combined their parties, the Party of the Sun and the Japan Restoration Party, despite their fundamental policy differences. The new party, retaining the Japan Restoration Party name, only holds eight seats in the House of Representatives, but its momentum is growing and it is likely to gain dozens of seats in the elections although it will be impossible for it to become the biggest or second-biggest party.

However, if a coalition between the LDP and the New Komeito Party fails to gain a majority after the elections and they choose to form a government with the Japan Restoration Party, and if by chance Ishihara then becomes prime minister, it will be disastrous for Sino-Japanese relations. With Ishihara as the leader, the party is ultra-nationalist, and has even clamored for Japan to have nuclear weapons.

Fortunately, opinion polls conducted by the Japanese media suggest that ultra-nationalist parties are unpopular with the majority of people in Japan.

The political landscape in Japan changes quickly, and the trend of Sino-Japanese relations after the election is closely linked with the policy direction of the ruling party. We are already familiar with the policies of the DPJ and should pay more attention to the LDP's policy platform.

LDP head Shinzo Abe announced his party's campaign platform for the elections on Nov 21. It focuses on reviving the national economy; implementing bold monetary easing measures; exercising the right to collective self-defence; opposing the nation's participation in the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations as long as the pact is premised on the elimination of all tariffs without exception, and establishing a sustainable energy supply mix within 10 years.

The LDP policy platform attaches great importance to education and national security.

Abe's new ambition if he leads the LDP to power is to establish a national security council at the Prime Minister's Office, which will allow Japan to exercise the right to "collective self-defense".

But of course, reviving the economy tops his economic policy agenda. Accordingly, it is foreseeable that with an LDP-led government, Sino-Japanese economic relations will gradually improve. However, at the same time, both countries will have to make greater efforts to improve security and defense cooperation. However, if the ultra-nationlists have a hand in ruling, Sino-Japanese relations will face an even greater crisis.

The author is a researcher on Japanese studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

(China Daily 11/26/2012 page9)

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