By Zhou Yongsheng, deputy director of the Japanese Studies Center of China Foreign Affairs University
BEIJING, Sept. 27 (ChinaMil) -- Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe held a press conference at his official residence on Monday afternoon, at which he announced that he will dissolve the House of Representatives on September 28 and will have the general election in advance next month.
The right to dissolve the House of Representatives is a trump card of the Japanese prime minister. Generally speaking, the prime minister would dissolve it and hold the general election at a time most favorable for the ruling party in order to ensure re-election. Given the current situation, dissolving the House of Representatives and holding the election now is indeed beneficial for Shinzo Abe in many ways.
On the one hand, Shinzo Abe has seen rising support rate after he restructured the Cabinet on August 3, 2017. Due to the Moritomo Gakuen and Kake Gakuen school scandals, Shinzo Abe's support slumped previously and reached a low level that endangered his administration at one point. Therefore, he formed a new Cabinet and kicked off some infamous members to save the support rate.
On the other hand, Japan's opposition parties are not united and potential rivals are not fully ready. The Democratic Party, the largest opposition party in Japan, recently elected party members and had many scandals. Its public support stays around 10%, unable to compete with Abe's Liberal Democratic Party. The "dark horse" Yuriko Koike had an overwhelming success at the Tokyo Prefecture election, but she is slow in forming her party, and other parties cannot be united to compete with the Liberal Democratic Party due to their own conflicts.
As a result, holding the general election in advance is good for Abe and his party. We must see that dissolving the House of Representatives is just a step to continue the Abe administration and consolidate his power both inside and outside the party, and revising the Constitution is his ultimate goal.
Previously the Constitution-revising forces such as the Liberal Democratic Party, Komei Party and Japan Innovation Party held two thirds of the seats at the two houses, so they could make sure the motion that called for the constitutional revision would be passed, but a large proportion of Japanese people are against this motion. If those parties will maintain such majority seats in the upcoming general election, Abe will be more confident to push the revision. As a matter of fact, some Japanese turned to support Abe's tough stance and revision proposal after the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) had the nuclear test on September 3, 2017.
However, Abe cannot rest assured now.
Abe's support slumped before he restructured the Cabinet last month, which reflected the Japanese public's discontent with their prime minister and his Liberal Democratic Party. The moment the news went out that Abe decided to dissolve the House of Representatives, he was slashed by opposition parties, who believed that Abe made such a decision at such a moment in order to shirk responsibilities for the school scandals. They said that when the Korean Peninsula situation is so worrisome, Abe's decision to create a political blank for his own interests regardless of national security is an irresponsible act that shows no consideration for the big picture.
Public mistrust and criticism from the opposition parties may lead to the falling vote for the Liberal Democratic Party. In that case, whether Abe will be elected as the party's president again next year is unknown. When Abe's support slumped earlier, other key members of the Liberal Democratic Party such as Shigeru Ishiba and Fumio Kishida were eager to take his place, and they are ready to form the election team to contend with Abe once the timing is right. If the Constitution-revising forces gathered by Abe cannot get over 2/3 of the seats in the advanced election, his cohesion in the party will further weaken and other powerful members of the party are likely to replace him.
Therefore, although the advanced election looks like a carefully designed and preemptive step for Abe, what the end result will be and whether Abe will have his way remains unclear.