There is a lot of cynicism regarding Shinto Abe’s decision to call a snap election on the 22nd of October. Mr. Mitani, an elderly Tokyoite, whose many years of experience with politicians have doubtless fomented his suspicion, calls Abe’s snap election ‘mere political theatre’.
Abe certainly wouldn’t risk losing power unless he was confident of his party’s victory, but if the various comments quoted in the Japan times, are anything to go by, then Abe has began to set up his own demise. Concerns have been raised about whether anyone has noticed a measurable difference in the quality of social programmes when more money has been spent on improvements in the past. One mother of a young child, also quote in The Japan Times, said that balancing the books, a goal to which the newly pledged money to education was supposed to go towards, is far more important for young generations who will have to face the consequences of a large national debt if not dealt with soon enough.
The pretext for calling this election is to win a public mandate on the decision to divert revenue from the newly 10% tax rate to improving education and other social programmes which will be effective from October 2019. Abe’s stance on improving education is noble, but many see an ulterior motive beneath his statements. Some say Abe thinks that seeing through his current term is untenable because of all the scandals that have dogged his office and that this snap election is a botched attempt to secure a new mandate, in the hopes that the talks of scandal will fade after an election victory. Although Abe’s intends to increase spending on social programmes his decision is only a small compromise since his party still remain firmly committed to Fiscal responsibility, which means paying off Japan’s large national debt.
Abe’s party, the LDP, will also be facing a new opposition in the newly formed Hope Party, who dealt a considerable defeat to the LDP in the Tokyo assembly elections in July. The Hope party, with Koike at the helm, is seeking to convert one of Abe’s main advantages, the lack of cohesion amongst his opposition, into Abe’s handicap, by attracting defectors to The Hope Party and working with the opposition. Despite these efforts many commentators dismiss the possibility of a shock defeat for Abe’s party, with Jeff Kingston in the Guardian, calling the LDP ‘giants amongst dwarfs.
What this shows, if anything, is that there is a tendency for people to regress to the mean when it comes to decisive elections. People may vote for The Hope party in less momentous elections for the Tokyo assembly, but often vote for the familiar candidate during general elections. Abe and his advisors also recognize such views otherwise it is unlikely that he would have called this snap election in the first place. Still, recent trends abroad have shown us that even the most seasoned political commentators can be wrong about the outcome of elections.
In such an uncertain climate and with such huge challenges, it is arguable that no leader can be popular given the magnitude of the world’s problems. Perhaps Abe’s detractors are more disturbed by the direction the world is going in than with Abe, but they hold Abe as being somehow responsible and expect him to shoulder the huge burdens that North Korea and competitive world economy pose, perhaps unfairly so. Even as we admonish world leaders we find that even the best of them cannot cope with major problems, including internal ones, which are so tethered to global trends outside of any single person’s hands.