The Abe Shuffle: Upcoming Movements in the Japanese Government

The Japanese government can, at times, be quite the fickle mistress. Constant sways in factional leadership provide an already never-ending entertainment value to the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, while the national-level debates and arguments provide enough food for thought for the nation. Just this week, however, we’ve seen a proclivity of action unlike much of what we’ve experienced this year. Due to the excruciatingly ‘juicy’ nature of these happenings, we’ve authored this post to help outsiders and insiders alike catch up and get familiar with the most recent conflicts, issues, and legislation.

Collective-Defense Legislation:

While a number of papers and journals are predicting a passage of the Abe administration’s landmark defense legislation within September, an interesting hurdle has been shoved in their way: “the enemy.” This enemy is, perhaps fittingly, the current elephant in the economic room, The People’s Republic of China.

Alongside the current economic volatility (or, ‘correction’, as some would argue), Abe’s administration put itself in an interesting little predicament internationally when a “scheduling conflict” was discovered that prevented Prime Minister Abe from heading to a military parade being held in Beijing. This “conflict” was only made clear once the administration found out that this military parade was not a mere march, but a celebration by China of their wartime victory over the Japanese empire. Oops…

Currently, the LDP faces two distinct options in passing through the legislation: gather enough support before September 11th, the official “cut-off” date for deliberations on the bill; or, wait until September 14th, which would automatically bring the bills before a vote in the Lower House (current deliberations are within the Upper House), which would most likely see them passed by a 2/3rds majority, but risk a tremendous drop in Abe’s numbers should he see them forced through.

Further factors affecting deliberations include the upcoming LDP election (scheduled for September 8th from 8:00am-9:00am) as well as the upcoming Silver Week holidays (September 21st – 23rd); meaning that the bills will need to be passed between the 14th and the 18th, or risk their passage at all.

These continuing brawls over the already-controversial defense legislation have lead to a 10-point drop in Abe’s ratings and a renewed negativity on the legislation’s importance (or lack thereof).

Power, Nuclear or Otherwise:

The aforementioned drop in Abe’s approval rating also coincided with the restart of the Sendai 1 nuclear reactor located in Kyushu, the first restart of a nuclear power plant after the events of the Great Tohoku Earthquake and subsequent nuclear meltdown. Surprisingly, this restart did not actually affect Prime Minister Abe’s ratings, despite the still-massive public opposition to the continued use of nuclear power.

This brings up an interesting note on “Power” in Japanese politics; specifically, elections and their timing. More often than not, politicians will run for office multiple times, but not to become elected. Oh no, sometimes they run just to leave their mark, gather supporters, and/or improve their public standing. More recent examples of this include former Prime Ministers Junichiro Koizumi and Taro Aso, who both ran for Prime Minister three times, lost three times, and finally won on their fourth and final try. Representative and former Minister Shigeru Ishiba is currently well into this process, having run and lost for the Prime Ministerial position twice, while his nearly three decades of Representative-ship have gone nearly unchallenged.

On the current term, though, many in the Abe government seemed to have changed their mind, finding a Prime Minister run “pointless” in the face of fair-to-good ratings for Prime Minister Abe, and a less than stellar backing for anyone else within the Liberal Democratic Party itself. This lack of internal backing mainly centers from the 7 factions, whose membership account for about 70% of the LDP’s membership on the whole. All of these factions are in (at the least nominal) support of Prime Minister Abe, guaranteeing a victory should he face any opposition within the party.

Within the Diet itself, the LDP currently boasts 36 members in the Lower House who have been elected 6, 7, or 8+ times. This thereby makes them eligible to become candidates for Ministerial posts, setting the stage for a possible reshuffle post-LDP election. With the exception of Minister of Land, Infrastructure, Transportation and Tourism Akihiro Ota, however, all Ministerial posts are currently held by members of the LDP.

Wait, How?

Does a politician run for Prime Minister? Simply, he or she needs 20 signatures of support from fellow members of the Diet. Of course, this is far more easily said than done, but there are a few in government now who are making a try, at the very least. One of particular note is Representative Seiko Noda, one of the rare faction-less members of the LDP who have strong Ministerial experience (oh, and also just so happens to be female). She does, however, face a few significant problems.

The first is support: while she has seen to have the ability to “get butts in seats” with a recent fundraiser/party attended by 30 members of the Diet, it has yet to be seen whether she can be persuasive or not to get their actual support. The second is a bit more simple: cost. Would the LDP be willing to cover the costs necessary to put an uncertain candidate versus a sure-win, even with the support? The current evidence leans towards a definitive “No.”

There can, however, always be surprises.

What’s Left? So, now that we have the people covered, what of the issues? What’s going to be up to debate or otherwise unattended once it all “goes down”? Currently, there a few issues that the Diet has under deliberation that are going to face either a certain promulgation or certain defeat.

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