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Parliamentary election puts brake on Japan’s right turn

Parliamentary election puts brake on Japan’s right turn

Posted December. 18, 2014 03:21,   


Sunday’s parliamentary elections in Japan have put a brake on the country’s right turn. If I write so, many people might be surprised because Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe had a political boost after the ruling coalition led by winning an overwhelming two-thirds majority in the lower house. Abe’s political gambling has paid off, and he is showing his ambition to seek a constitutional revision. Many people are concerned that he might have confidence in his hard-line stance against China and South Korea and make yet another controversial visit to the Yasukuni Shrine.

However, I do not think so. Abe has certainly solidified his political footing but will likely find it difficult to charge toward the right.

I remember when Abe smiled after a TV debate for the 2012 parliamentary elections, saying that Shintaro Ishihara made him look moderate. After finishing his term in office as governor of Tokyo, he had formed an alliance with then-Mayor Toru Hashimoto of Osaka. He strongly criticized China for its territorial claims over the Senkaku Islands, also known as the Diaoyu Islands in China and expressed his aspiration for a constitutional revision. Boosted by Hashimoto’s popularity, the Japan Restoration Party won 54 seats in the parliament, rising to the third-largest party.

Two years later, Ishihara bowed out of politics after losing in the December 14 elections. Although he founded the extreme right-wing Next Generation Party after breaking up with Hashimto, 82-year-old Ishihara put his name at the bottom of the party’s proportional representation list for Tokyo. In addition to the expected loss of his seat, his name failed to exert any influence, with his party winning no proportional seat. Moreover, the party suffered a fatal blow as it saw the number of its seats reduced from 19 to two.

Toshio Tamogami, who ran on an electoral district in Tokyo, also suffered a huge defeat. He was dismissed from the chief of staff position at Air Self-Defense Force, in 2008 after releasing an essay justifying Japan’s aggression and colonial rule of neighboring countries. He had been engaged in right-wing media activities since then. He ran in Tokyo’s gubernatorial election earlier this year but failed to win despite Ishihara’s strong backing.

In Osaka, there was a lawmaker named Shingo Nishimura, leader of the Sunrise Party and Ishihara’s long-time ally who made an extremist argument’s about Japan’s nuclear armament and the Senkaku Islands issue. He came under public criticism last year for making ungraceful remarks about the comfort women for the Japanese army during World War II. He also lost in the latest elections. Hiroshi Yamada, the party’s secretary general, continued to criticize the “Kono Statement” of apology to the “comfort women” at the Diet. He also lost his Tokyo seat in the parliament.

Abe must have been thankful for them, as they strongly championed a constitutional revision and an independent view of history. The opposition politicians kept making strong arguments that Abe himself could not make, running at the forefront of Japan’s turn to the right. Now, Abe has lost nearly all of them.

It was the Communist Party that garners support from voters critical of Abe’s lines and increases its parliamentary seats from nine to 21. The party also won a seat on Okinawa, where Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) lost in all of the four electoral districts in a special situation involving the controversial issue of relocating the U.S. military base. In addition to the result of an earlier gubernatorial election, the LDP’s defeat in Okinawa will certainly delay the base relocation. If Abe fails to deliver his promise with the United States to move the Okinawa base, he would find it even more difficult to draw Washington’s ire by repeating his visits to the Yasukuni Shrine.

Banri Kaieda, leader of the main opposition Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), lost his parliamentary seat but the party managed to increase the number of its seats. It will make a new start by electing a new leader in the New Year. Will it have some of its rigors back? The Japan Restoration Party, which has broken up with Ishihara, has also been stepping up its criticism against Abe.

Despite the ruling coalition’s victory, it was the LDP’s partner Komeito that increased its parliamentary seats. The Komeito is taking a cautious approach to a constitutional revision and puts a brake on Abe’s view of history and shrine visits. Abe will likely become more conscious about the relationship.

Abe is keeping his head up, as his “Abenomics” economic policy won public support. However, it is where the economy goes, rather than how the election resulted, that would determine the fate of Abe’s economic policy. The Japanese economy is facing a crucial moment now, and a mistake could cause a serious crisis. Abe cannot afford to push for a constitutional revision too hard or create more diplomatic troubles than necessary.

This is my personal opinion. In a historic year marking the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II and the establishment of Seoul-Tokyo diplomatic ties, it would not be wise for South Korea to freeze the bilateral ties by unnecessarily condemning Abe.

Yoshibumi Wakamiya, senior fellow of Japan Center for International Exchange and former chief editor of Asahi Shimbun