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News Analysis: Japan's flighty politics ushers in new LDP, old problems remain

English.news.cn   2012-12-31 13:46:01            

TOKYO, Dec. 31 (Xinhua) -- In the wake of the global financial crisis, earthquake and nuclear calamities, mounting public debt amid decades of crippling deflation, a tumultuous year in politics ending in the ousting of a novice Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) in a general election was somewhat predetermined.

Added to this, ongoing territorial rows with Russia, South Korea and China -- the latter of which has severely dented relations and commerce with Japan's largest trading partner -- and the resurgence of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) to power, as many pundits will attest, was, all-in-all, something of a foregone conclusion.


Although the LDP's victory has been heralded as a "landslide" win, the fact of the matter remains thus: the public support rate for the LDP remains in line with the rate when the DPJ swung to power in 2009, ending half a century of almost unbroken LDP governance in Japan.

Only 43 percent of voters cast their votes for the LDP in single-seat constituencies, with less than 60 percent of eligible voters casting ballots altogether. Put simply, one quarter of eligible voters voted for the LDP, which won in what the party and the press has heralded a parliamentary "landslide."

Japan's electorate is famously apathetic, but while the DPJ had to be ousted for failing to keep the promises it made in its own pre-election campaign and manifesto in 2009, there remained no other viable parties to take the helm.

The "third force" parties, some of them very newly formed to run against the LDP and the DPJ in the recent general election, garnered little "actual" support in hindsight, but some of their watchwords did gain traction and along with apathy towards the two main parties, the right-leaning third forces, towards the end of the year, began to garner public support for their nationalistic mantras and overt neo-jingoism as Japan faced changing geopolitical situations.

The Japan Restoration Party (JRP), which comprises the outspoken ex-Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara and populist Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto, for example, in the proportional representation section of the vote did considerably well, despite much of their sentiments being viewed by both domestic and international commentators as a step backwards for Japanese diplomacy and potentially damaging the already fragile relations with Japan's neighbors.

Shinzo Abe, president of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), has been re-ushered through Japan's revolving door for prime minister, after steering his party back to power, following three years of waiting, as a rookie DPJ held sway in parliament.


Indeed, Abe and his party's recent rise to power is something of a second-coming for the Japanese public, as Abe served as prime minister for the LDP between September 2006 to August 2007, before a hasty resignation over party scandals and public indignation over social pension data that was lost by his government.

Abe, 58, is now Japan's seventh prime minister in six years, and while recent policy speeches and news conferences are not a lack of fresh, gung-ho attitude and are full of crowd-pleasing hyperbolical assurances, Abe and his newly formed cabinet are under close scrutiny from the electorate and pundits alike.

The second-time Japanese leader and grandson of a former prime minister said in recent news conferences that he intends to keep his sights set firmly on the future and has no interest in placing blame on any perceived ineptitude of the former ruling DPJ.

And while it may be this kind of positive thinking, or at least affirmative public speaking, that helped Abe to easily oust the Democrats in the latest general election, which saw him win 328 of the 478 votes cast, securing his party and its smaller ally New Komeito party the two-thirds majority needed to control the more powerful lower house of Japan's bicameral system of parliament, Abe now has his work cut out for him, political pundits attest.

"We can see from Abe's cabinet lineup that the new prime minister is scrambling to try and kick start Japan's sluggish economy and his strong-arming of the central bank is perhaps a testament to this," Laurent Sinclair, an independent research analyst for pacific affairs, told Xinhua.

"Abe is leaning on the Bank of Japan (BOJ) to rethink its current monetary policy towards unlimited easing and has even suggested that the law protecting the bank's independence from the government may be changed if the BOJ rejects Abe's insistence it sets a 2 percent inflation target -- this in twine with a host of planned spending on public projects," he said.

Sinclair went on to say that Abe's intentions to make a concerted effort to lift Japan's clear from decades of debilitating deflation and chip away at the nation's mountainous debt at more than double the size of the nation's 5 trillion U.S. dollar economy, were also overtly apparent in his appointment of another former prime minister to his cabinet, one known for his fiscal prowess.

"The point in case here is Abe selecting former Prime Minister Taro Aso, a known fiscal hawk, to be the nation's finance minister. Abe will clearly look to Aso to help Japan escape from its economic doldrums by unrolling thoroughgoing fiscal initiatives to tackle the nation's crippling deflation and debt," Sinclair said.

As well as finance minister, Aso, 72, will also concurrently serve as financial services minister and deputy prime minister, making him one of Abe's closest and most powerful allies in his newly formed cabinet, and will be charged with unrolling lofty fiscal spending projects in an attempt to reverse deflation and soften a persistently strong yen.

Abe is clearly proactive about repairing the nation's tattered finances, with one route being making Japanese exports more competitive and profitable in markets which are becoming increasingly saturated. "Being seen to be proactive is one thing, but rhetoric alone has been the downfall of many of Abe's predecessors," Sinclair warned.

Critics of Abe are also concerned that the reforms quintessential to generating the growth Abe is targeting are being ignored, and other elements impacting Japan's economy, such as its rapidly aging society and shrinking population and the reforms needed to counteract the downside affects of these, are seemingly being put on the back burner.


Abe's cabinet lineup has also drawn flak for its lack of new blood with some of the ministers serving when the party was ousted by the DPJ three years ago.

But of more concern to some pundits is the nationalistic stance of his newly formed coterie, many of whom share Abe's notion of revising the nation's pacifist constitution, which currently prohibits Japan from engaging in acts of war.

The impending debate, certain to rile Japan's neighbors who suffered under Japan's brutal colonial rule during WWII, centers around Article 9 of the constitution, a clause that ensures Japan "renounces war" -- specifically that, "land, sea and air forces and other war potential will never be maintained."

"Abe has appointed a cabinet of close allies, many of whom share his right wing views," Japan affairs commentator Kaoru Imori told Xinhua.

"Yoshihide Suga who was appointed to the top post of chief cabinet secretary also harbors similar views to Abe regarding overhauling Japan's pacifist constitution. Education Minister Hakubun Shimomura is also a vocal supporter of rewriting the constitution and forging closer ties with the United States on matters of regional security," Imori said.

Editor: Chen Zhi
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