The PM sees constitutional change as vital to securing his legacyby John Nilsson-Wright / October 24, 2017 / Leave a comment
If political success is the ability to exceed expectations then Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is clearly a winner. Barely two weeks ago the conventional wisdom was that Japan’s governing Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) was facing a possible shock defeat at the hands of the newly formed (and optimistically entitled) Party of Hope (Kibo no To) of Yuriko Koike, the governor of Tokyo—a supposedly iconoclastic new-style populist leader who had pitched herself as an alternative to the staid traditions of conventional politics. Sunday’s election has, however, produced a dramatically different outcome.
Abe’s LDP has secured a decisive 284 seats, dominating a hybrid electoral contest in which it captured 80 percent of first past the post single member districts and the biggest share—some 33 percent—of the proportional representation seats in Japan’s powerful Lower House. Together with its coalition partner, Komeito, the LDP now has a commanding 313 seats—a super-majority of more than two-thirds of the 465 seat House of Representatives that will allow the government to continue to dominate the parliamentary environment. By contrast, Kibo no To failed dramatically, winning just 50 seats overall, coming third behind the newly formed rival opposition party, the Constitutional Democratic Party (CDP) with 55 seats, and dismally gaining just one out of 25 single-member seats in Tokyo, its pre-election political base and heartland.
What went wrong and why did hope evaporate so quickly? Koike’s problems were part tactical and part substantive. Shortly after the founding of her party on 25th September, the then main opposition party, the Democratic Party (DP) appeared to implode with its leader, Seiji Maehara, announcing his intention to run as an independent and calling on his colleagues to join Koike’s new party. However, instead of adopting a big tent approach, welcoming the Democrats, Koike applied a selective political litmus test allowing only conservative-leaning members favouring constitutional revision and strong defence policy to join Kibo.
In response, progressive Democrats regrouped to form the CDP, under a new leader, Yukio Edano, in the process splitting the opposition parties and offering an alternative to the electorate. Koike’s decision not to run as a candidate, continuing instead as governor, immediately raised an important doubt in the minds of the voters. A vote for Kibo might supplant the LDP, but without Koike leading the party in the…