Can Abe survive the Dec. 13 vote?

By Joe Hhung

It’s election time in Japan now. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe dissolved the Lower House of the Diet last Friday, and a snap general election is scheduled for Dec. 14. Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party won a landslide general election in 2012, and the next general election wouldn’t take place until 2016. Why should Abe call the snap election? Abe said he has to ask the people whether he can continue his Abenomics policies, now that the third of his three ��arrows�� has remained in the quiver because of the opposition of the vested interests it is intended to undermine. The fact is that he has to pacify the consumers by postponing until 2017 the 10 percent sales tax hike set for October next year in order just to make his increasingly unpopular LDP stay in power for four more years. That’s why Abe had to pocket his pride by admitting there is a sovereignty dispute over the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands to go to Beijing to meet Chinese President Xi Jinping on the sidelines of the APEC (Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation) summit earlier this month. The meeting is just a meeting for a meeting’s sake: Abe doesn’t want Japan’s row to interfere with his master plan to extend the tenure of the LDP regime. Xi had to comply, because he made Abe’s admission a sine qua non for the face-to-face talks. From Beijing Abe went to Brisbane for the G-20 summit in Australia to complete his long summit circuit to make sure nothing on the diplomatic front will affect the results of his ��Abenomics�� snap election. On returning to Tokyo, he found the Japanese economy sliding into recession for two quarters in a row this year, and he gambled to ask for a new mandate.

Can Abe survive the snap general election? He is more than confident that he will. Otherwise, he wouldn’t call it in the first place. Before the dissolution of the Lower House, the LDP had 294 of its 480 seats, 53 more than an absolute majority. The ruling party also had a coalition ally, the Komeito that seated 31 members in the all-powerful Lower House that elects the prime minister. The coalition had a very comfortable, more than two-thirds majority control.

As Abe is convinced that the coalition can still retain its Lower House control, even though it should lose three scores of seats in the Dec. 14 election, he vowed to step down if the simple majority control is lost.

Perhaps Abe is a little overconfident. A Kyodo News agency survey on Friday found that about 63 percent of people did not understand his reasons for going to the polls early. A separate survey by the Asahi Shimbun newspaper showed that only 39 percent of eligible voters supported him, the lowest since he took office as prime minister in December 2012. Earlier this month, he still enjoyed 42 percent support, though. His disapproval rate rose to 40 percent from 36 percent, pushing it above his approval rate for the first time. In other words, he is getting more unpopular.