Media  Foreign Affairs and National Security  2014.11.26

General Election in Japan - Why Now?

JBpress on November 21, 2014

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe dissolved the lower house of Japan's National Diet today, and called for an early general election to be held on December 14. Abe said he wanted voters to support his decision to postpone a scheduled increase in the national consumption tax. Nonetheless, the silent majority of Japanese still wonder why a general election is being held now.

In his press conference on November 18, Abe announced that he would delay for 18 months the second tax increase, from eight to ten percent, originally scheduled for October 2015. Many voters as well as parliamentarians were taken completely by surprise when they found out that the rumors about the general election was not a bluff but, in fact, Abe's true intention.

All politics is local. And this time again, the main issues are not national security or foreign policy. Prime Minister Abe called the election to seek a fresh mandate for his economic policies, including the postponement of the unpopular consumption tax rise. The decision was made a day after data and statistics revealed that Japan's economy seems to have slipped back into recession.

Abe stated in the press conference that, "I am aware that critics say 'Abenomics' is a failure and not working but I have not heard one concrete idea what to do instead ... Are our economic policies mistaken, or correct? Is there another option?" He added that, "This is the only way to end deflation and revive the economy." Of course, there are pros and cons for the decision he made.

Despite Abe's rationale for the early general election, critics here in Tokyo argue that:
- Abe is seeking to renew his mandate just as doubts about the success of his strategy are deepening.
- Abe is hoping to cement his grip on power before his support rating, now below 50 percent, slips further.
- Abenomics has only benefited big companies and affluent city dwellers by weakening the yen and boosting the stock market, but ordinary Japanese have been hurt because inflation has outpaced wage increases.

Political analysts say Abe's decision was an admission that Abenomics was losing steam but Abe seems to be well aware of such criticism. He also stated in the press conference that, "There is also resistance. To continue advancing that growth strategy with the support of the people, we need to listen to the voice of people."

The opposition harshly criticized Abe, saying that there is no cause for this election. Now is not the time for us, they say, to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on the general election. We should instead spend our energy on policy debate and avoid a power vacuum at the end of the year. This, they argue, is the election of, by, and for Shinzo Abe, not the people.

The silent majority of Japanese are now puzzled. They know that Abenomics has not stopped the decade-long slide in the incomes of average citizens, especially those who live in the countryside or who have not benefited from the recent rally of the stock market. Ordinary working Japanese now feel poorer, trapped between cost of living increases and decreasing wages.

This does not necessarily assure a defeat for Abe's LDP because the opposition parties in Japan are neither powerful nor ready for the upcoming parliamentary battles. They are not only weak but divided too. Some parties may not survive the next general election and could eventually disappear. This is one of the reasons why Abe decided to call an election sooner rather than later.

This doesn't guarantee Abe's victory, either. The December 14 election may give opposition parties a golden opportunity to reunite so that the LDP may lose more seats than they expect. This is what democracy is all about and we should trust the healthy and wise judgment of the Japanese voters.