The game is on for Abe, for better or worse

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The game is on for Abe, for better or worse

With Japan’s ruling coalition securing a simple majority in the Upper House elections last Sunday, Shinzo Abe has finally ended the era of the twisted Diet after six years. But while the dominance of the Liberal Democratic Party and New Komeito is widely recognized as a stabilizing factor in pushing through fundamental economic reforms and facilitating constitutional revision, it may also induce a great deal of political instability.

Tensions within the LDP and New Komeito are expected to increase rather than subside when structural reforms under the third arrow of Abenomics will be put before the Diet. Many members in the ruling coalition who have just been elected to the Upper House will be torn to go against their conservative constituency on issues such as deregulation, consumption tax increase, supporting the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and defending the restart of Japan’s nuclear reactors.

If the popular front within the ruling bloc is going to break down due to a waning support of Abenomics, Japan will face an economic and political crisis of historic proportions. Thus, ironically the biggest threat to the Abe administration is not coming from outside but from within the ruling bloc itself.

Interlinked to this issue is the push for constitutional change, which Abe has adopted as his pet policy project. The ruling coalition is currently divided on this very issue, with New Komeito President Natsuo Yamaguchi vowing prior to the election to counter any LDP move towards revising Article 9 or the right to collective self-defense. The only option thus available to Abe is to create a nationalistic alliance with the Restoration Party, right-wing elements within the Democratic Party of Japan, and possibly the Your Party, to realize the necessary two-third majority in both houses. Contrary to conventional wisdom, however, such an alliance will be very fragile and prone to political gaffes that could further isolate Japan’s foreign policy in the region. South Korea and China should be especially vigilant on August 15 when Japan is commemorating the end of World War II. Some government officials and Diet members will take this opportunity to visit the controversial Yasukuni Shrine. Depending on who within the nationalist camp will go and whether Abe will join them, one might be able to map out the direction of constitutional reform.

Within the next three years Abe will fight an uphill battle on numerous fronts that will create him new friends and new foes. But the game is on to bring about change to Japan. Change that will forever resonate throughout Japan’s history for better or for worse.

by Stefan Soesanto German resident in Seoul

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