Although Japan’s general election, which saw Abe Shinzō’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party (in fact the conservative establishment choice, despite the name) and its Komeito junior coalition partner barely retain their two-thirds control over the House of Representatives, was held over a month ago, it is still very unclear what path the LDP will decide to take in the next few years and what will become of the country’s fractured opposition.
November saw Tokyo Governor Koike Yuriko resign as the co-President and spiritual leader of the second largest opposition force, Kibō no Tō (Party of Hope), after an initially hopeful election campaign turned into a publicity disaster. Koike first declined to resign as Tokyo Governor in order to run for Prime Minister, then excluded many members of the Democratic Party – the previous opposition force – from her new party. The departure of Koike has left Kibō no Tō with something of an identity crisis.
It is even possible that Kibō will effectively morph into something along the lines of the old Democratic Party, which was a very loose coalition of anti-Abe forces from all along the political spectrum when its Lower House contingent was dissolved in September. In stark contrast, Edano Yukio’s Constitutional Democratic Party (CDP), Japan’s largest opposition party, is experiencing rising popularity. After seeing its seat count rise from fifteen to fifty-five in the election, welcoming Japan’s first ever openly gay Lower House member in the process, it seems in a better position than Kibō no Tō to challenge Abe in future elections.
The most important issue facing the country and its government at the moment is that of the Constitution, which took effect in 1947 and which has not been altered since. In particular, Abe has made it his aim to revise the much-lauded Article 9, which “forever renounce[s] war as a sovereign right of the nation” and forbids “war potential” [a military] to be maintained.
Although the article is celebrated by pacifists, Abe and other hawkish politicians see it as a national humiliation imposed by American occupation forces after the war, and seek to amend it or even remove it entirely. As Article 9 is supported by most of the Japanese population, winning a referendum is trickier, and so the most common proposal put forward by conservatives is to amend the article to allow for the existence of Japan’s Self-Defence Force (SDF), ostensibly a purely defensive institution but which now contains an aircraft carrier branded as a “helicopter-destroyer” thanks to Abe. Polls show the amendment is still unpopular. It is not even certain that Article 9 will be included in Abe’s amendment proposal. Negotiations on the subject of constitutional revision restarted on the 16th November and are set to be long and arduous.
Despite Abe’s rhetoric, it is not certain that Article 9 will be included in any future constitutional referendum. Being the first Prime Minister to amend the Constitution in any way at all would still be a political victory in a country noted for forgettable Prime Ministers.