Swing to right expected in Japanese election
Japanese voters head to the polls in less than 24 hours in an election likely to see a sharp swing to the right, amid recession and rising tensions with China.
The ruling Democratic Party (DPJ) is projected to lose heavily against the conservative Liberal Democrats (LDP), which were swept from power just three years ago. A survey by Kyodo News suggests the LDP will take 300 of the 480 seats in Japan’s lower house, with the DPJ trailing at around 60 seats. The Renaissance Party, led by right-wing firebrand Shintaro Ishihara, is projected to emerge in third place but may hold the balance of power in a coalition.
Both front-running parties have pledged to increase defence spending and challenge Japan’s anti-war constitution in the face of what conservatives see as a rising military threat from China and North Korea.
On Thursday Japan scrambled eight F-15 fighter jets after a Chinese government aircraft was reportedly spotted over territory disputed by both sides. Analysts predicts the incursion, the latest by China over a small group of islands they call the Diaoyus (Senkakus in Japan), may push Japanese voters further into the arms of right-wing candidates.
The new government is likely to be quickly consumed, however, by problems at home, including an economy sliding into its fifth recession in 15 years and a public debt burden of about $12 trillion, worsened by the cost of cleaning up from last year’s earthquake, tsunami and radiation disaster at Fukushima.
Japan is nearing a quarter of a century in relative economic decline and has slipped into third place behind China as a global economic power. Its population is predicted to plummet by a third in the next 50 years.
Whoever wins will also have to plunge into the debate over Japan’s nuclear reactors, most of which are idled in the aftermath of the Fukushima nuclear disaster. The LDP wants to restart the reactors, despite opposition from the public.
LDP leader Shinzo Abe, who led the country five years ago, is tipped to be the next prime minister. He has pledged to jolt Japan out of its deflationary slump by forcing the central bank to buy billions of yen in special bonds, a plan denounced by some economists as “snake oil”. Much of the money would go on increased spending for public works.
Tensions with China
Mr Abe, who was prime minister five years ago, also wants to revise the constitution, allowing Japan to take a more aggressive stance towards China and North Korea. A well-known historical revisionist, he has said he will visit the Tokyo war memorial Yasukuni Shrine, which enshrines Japan’s wartime leaders. Both moves are likely to worsen tensions with Beijing.
The election results may hinge on the role of smaller parties. Many analysts believe the small Buddhist-backed New Komeito restrained Mr Abe’s nationalist tendencies when the two parties were in coalition five years ago.
One possible outcome is an LDP coalition with the Renaissance Party, which shares his foreign policy views.