Japan goes to the polls
The choice was legislative gridlock over tax increases needed to manage the deficit, or a voting deal with the opposition in return for elections. Japan’s prime minister Yoshihiko Noda succumbed, and has called elections for December 16th, almost certainly, polls suggest, sealing his own and his Democratic Party’s (DP) departure from office.
Three years and two other prime ministers ago, it had all been very different. The DP had routed the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), breaking its almost uninterrupted 50-year hegemony on Japanese politics. It was set to reform politics and the economy, a new broom. But it was not to be – good intentions were foiled by party divisions, as well as the tsunami and its aftermath.
If there was a good time for Noda to call an election, now is probably not it. Japan is at loggerheads with China over disputed islands, public debt is rising and the economy is heading towards its third recession in three years. Post-tsunami reconstruction appears to be going nowhere.
But neither party appears likely to emerge with a majority, and the prospect is of a return to power of former LDP prime minister Shinzo Abe, probably leaning on some new as-yet untested splinter parties: mayor of Osaka Toru Hashimoto and his Japan Restoration; former Tokyo governor Shintaro Ishihara’s Sunrise Party; and tarnished veteran political fixer and ex-LDP and DP member, Ichiro Ozawa, who hopes to rally political groupings to form a “third political force”. The prospects for a stable government do not look great.
The election, with splinter party support, of the nationalist Abe, who provocatively visited the Yasukuni war shrine recently, could see a lurch to the right by Japan that would not bode well for its relations with its neighbours. He has called for the easing of constitutional restraints on Japan’s military. He is also likely to back an easing of monetary policy, new political control over the central bank, and the controversial reopening of nuclear plants.