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Japan gears up to go to the polls amid war fears

October 20, 2017, 15:21 UTC+3 TOKYO

Most Japanese voters agree that despite the mistakes, Abe’s team has a working program of economic development

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Supporters holding posters of Japan's Prime Minister and President of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party Shinzo Abe

Supporters holding posters of Japan's Prime Minister and President of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party Shinzo Abe

© AP Photo/Shizuo Kambayashi

TOKYO, October 20. /TASS reporter Vasily Golovin/. Over the past two weeks, Japan’s political life has moved from the parliament, party headquarters and government cabinets to the railway stations and commercial quarters. In these crowded places, people could routinely meet Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and even shake hands with him.

Representatives from all parties are sounding off their inflammatory speeches from campaign buses in the run-up to the October 22 general election to the country’s key lower house of parliament.

Abe had an option to put off the election until December next year, but he decided to gamble. Consequently, his hand was seriously weakened by the scandals linked to his alleged support for his friends in their commercial activities. Although corruption schemes were not corroborated, an unpleasant feeling still lingers in the air. Any delay until December 2018 was fraught with plunging public support, so the prime minister decided to drastically change the political climate in the country.

Fears have not come true

Abe’s bet on the weakness and unpopularity of the opposition’s major force, the Democratic Party, turned out to be a huge blunder. After the decision on early elections, this group split, birthing two new energetic forces as the prime minister’s rivals. The first was the Party of Hope, set up in the run-up to the announcement of the polls, led by the ambitious and determined Yuriko Koike, who is currently Tokyo’s governor. Her group merged with the right wing of the Democratic Party. The Party of Hope, which is conservative, has launched an aggressive PR campaign, vowing to carry out crucial reforms.

The second force is the left-liberal wing of the now defunct Democratic Party that formed the Constitutional Democratic Party, which may become a dangerous "vacuum cleaner" luring in voters, who want Japan to conduct a more leftist, pacifist and socially-oriented policy.

First, sociologists had a shared vision that amid the fierce struggle between the new parties, Abe’s supporters will suffer losses. But the fears have not come true: public opinion polls, which usually turn out to be precise, show that the Liberal Democratic Party led by Abe may win more than half of the 465 seats in the lower house. Together with its ally in the ruling coalition, the centrist Komeito party, which relies on the supporters of some reformed Buddhist movements, the Liberal Democratic Party may even secure more than two-thirds of the mandates. The coalition is projected to keep its leading positions in the lower house, which has a decisive role in choosing the prime minister and adopting the budget.

According to sociologists, following a good start, the Tokyo governor’s Party of Hope will suffer a crushing defeat.

Voters trust Abenomics

Most Japanese voters agree that despite the mistakes, Abe’s team has a working program of economic development, the so-called Abenomics, based on near-zero interest rates and encouraging investment through credit availability. The public supports the prime minister calls for businesses to hike salaries saying that prosperous citizens will purchase more, resulting in higher profits.

After five years of Abe’s tenure, the overall revenues of private businesses in Japan reached a record high of 75 trillion yens (almost $664 bln). Demand by Japanese workers has surged to its highest in over the past 43 years amid moderate but constant economic growth. Salaries have increased, mainly in major companies. In the run-up to the elections, the key index of the Tokyo Stock Exchange skyrocketed to a new 21-year record high.

The opposition has been unable to show itself as a convincing alternative to the ruling party.

What if war breaks out tomorrow?

The Japanese are very concerned about moves by Pyongyang, which has threatened to destroy their country, Washington’s key ally in East Asia. In response to North Korea’s missile and nuclear tests, US-Japanese and US-South Korean military drills have been constantly held in the region involving US air task force and strategic bombers. The growing threat of a real conflict and belligerent rhetoric by Pyongyang and Washington dominate the headlines of local newspapers.

Hosei University Professor and Veteran Japanese Political Expert, Rey Siratori, told TASS that "depending on the situation, President Donald Trump may indeed take some decisive steps in December regarding North Korea." In this case, Japan and South Korea will be on the frontline of Pyongyang’s potential strike, he highlighted.

Abe used voters’ fears to his full advantage by touting his key election campaign slogan of "We will defend Japan." These words are written on almost all advertisements of the Liberal Democratic Party. The prime minister stresses that he has personal trust-based relations with US President Donald Trump, who vowed to shield his ally from North Korea’s missiles. The voters also assess Tokyo’s own efforts aimed at boosting its current missile defense potential.

The opposition has nothing else to say on this problem. The right-wing Party of Hope mirrors the position of the government, and the left-wing and leftist liberal forces are limited by pacifist calls to resolve the conflict by purely peaceful means.

Experts have no doubt that the ruling coalition will win the election and many of them are now hashing over the country’s development after the polls.

Japan’s Russia policy

Professor Siratori believes that if Abe secures more than two-thirds of seats in the lower house, he will immediately start implementing his strategic goal of amending the constitution and namely its pacifist Article 9, which bans Japan from having any military potential. Although this provision has generally been disregarded, the prime minister wants to finally get rid of this ambiguity once and for all and amend the constitution to legalize the Japan Self-Defense Forces.

The election victory will enable Abe to achieve his goal of securing his post until 2021, becoming the longest-serving prime minister in Japan’s post-war history, the political scientist said.

Tokyo is expected to continue its policy aimed at cooperation with Russia and stepping up talks on signing a peace treaty, according to the expert. Abe will pursue the policy of maintaining close personal relations with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Japan considers this course to be a key tool for dialogue, including on the fate of the South Kuril Islands. "In his policy of cooperation with Moscow, Prime Minister Abe distances himself from Washington’s hard line, in particular on the issue of sanctions against Russia, which are symbolic in the Japanese case," the professor said.

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