Ignoring protests from furious voters and opposition lawmakers, the ruling camp led by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has enacted two divisive security laws, marking a significant departure from Japan’s postwar pacifism.
Following the law’s passage, which came early Saturday morning, one question stands out: How good is the public’s memory?
Polls have suggested a majority of voters — more than 60 percent according to some surveys — opposed the bills, and the forcible enactment of the legislation is now expected to push down the government’s approval rating.
But Abe’s government and the ruling coalition will not face a political test until the next Upper House election slated for July.
The prime minister has now shifted gears, attempting to recalibrate the economy in the hopes that the public’s anger with the government will wane before the July election.
But maintaining the current level of outrage for more than nine months does not look to be an easy task for Abe’s opponents. In December 2013 his support rate plummeted considerably after the ruling camp forcibly enacted the state-secrecy legislation, only to bounce back the following month.
Students Emergency Action for Liberal Democracy (SEALDs), a coalition of college students that played a key role in the demonstrations against the security bills, has already shifted its focus of maintaining protest momentum — and keeping the public’s anger stoked — until the Upper House poll.
“I want to emphasize this is not just something that university students are doing during a summer vacation,” Aki Okuda, a SEALDs leader, told a news conference Thursday at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan.
“Now, many people have started talking about ‘bringing down a politician who supported the bills in the election.’ That has become like a mantra for us,” Okuda said.
Ultimately, experts say maintaining the level of public anger at Abe hinges on how well he handles economic issues before the July election.
“The key would be economic policies,” said Kazuhisa Kawakami, a political science professor at Meiji Gakuin University.
Kawakami said one factor will be whether Abe can secure sufficient financial resources to meet ballooning social security costs.
He said the important thing is for the LDP “to return to the basic principle of politics — to revitalize the economy and increase tax revenues.”
He added, the price of failure for the LDP may be the public abandoning it.
Currently, there are few economic bright spots for Abe to point to as his “Abenomics” policy mix appears to have started to run out of steam.
Bank of Japan Gov. Haruhiko Kuroda, who was appointed by Abe to promote an ultraloose monetary policy, confidently declared in April 2013 that Japan would tame deflation in just two years by buying a staggering amount of government bonds each month and somehow stimulating the nation’s economy. But in almost 2½ years, Japan is still far from achieving Kuroda’s inflation target of 2 percent a year, prompting economists to question the validity of his — and Abe’s — economic remedies.
On Sept. 8, the government released revised GDP figures for the April-June period showing that the economy shrank 1.2 percent on an annualized basis.
Elsewhere, the Chinese economy continues to struggle. Last month, the Shanghai stock market crashed, prompting many in recent months to suspect that the country may no longer be able to sustain its miraculous economic growth.
Doubts about the Chinese economy sent the Tokyo stock exchange in a tailspin, as China is the nation’s No. 1 trading partner in terms of the value of exports and imports.
Shiro Tazaki, a veteran journalist and senior writer at Jiji Press, predicted that Abe will make the economy his top priority. For Abe, he wrote, “the season of security issues” ended with the enactment of the security bills.
Until next summer’s Upper House poll, Abe will maintain his still-strong influence over Liberal Democratic Party members because they will need to stay united in order to survive the election.
Once the poll is over, his rivals will begin preparing for a post-Abe era that will considerably weaken his influence, Tazaki wrote in an online column published Sept. 7.
“It won’t be an easy task to maintain his clout in the administration because the nation will start questioning the achievements of ‘Abenomics’ and (rival politicians) will openly start moving toward the post-Abe era,” Tazaki wrote.
Abe was re-elected LDP president on Sept. 8, winning another three-year term as head of the ruling party.
Under LDP rules, he cannot run for a third term.
“Any administration will lose much of its political clout in a second term,” Tazaki pointed out.
“(Abe) will no doubt find it more difficult than ever to handle political affairs,” Tazaki wrote.
In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.