Japanese parliamentary elections crucial for new Prime Minister’s government

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TOKYO (AP) – In his first big test as Japanese prime minister, Fumio Kishida’s ruling party is set to lose seats in Sunday’s national parliamentary elections, while retaining a majority.

The number of seats in parliament lost will determine whether Kishida is destined to be a leader in the short term or whether he will have enough allies to fight an economy battered by coronaviruses and concerns about climate change, gender inequality. , a rapidly aging and declining population and aggressive movements from China in a region that Japan has long dominated.

Kishida, 64, was elected prime minister on October 4 after winning the leadership race of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party. Conservative party leaders saw him as a secure and status quo successor to Yoshihide Suga, who stepped down after just one year in office.

Kishida’s immediate task was to rally support for a party weakened by Suga’s perceived authoritarian approach to pandemic measures and his insistence on hosting the Tokyo Summer Olympics despite widespread opposition.

But Kishida’s long-term grip on power will depend on his election results.

Kishida dissolved the lower house just 10 days after taking office, calling for this election and stating that he wanted a mandate from the voters for his new government before going to work.

Kishida has repeatedly underlined his determination to respond to criticism over the nine years of leadership of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Suga, who was handpicked by party heavyweights to replace the longest-serving leader Abe. of the country, after abruptly resigning due to health problems.

The campaign focused on COVID-19 response measures and revitalizing the economy, as well as diplomatic and security issues related to China’s growing influence and the nuclear and ballistic threat from China. North Korea. Kishida, who inherits Suga’s pledge to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050, plans to rush to the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow, Scotland after the election.

At the start of the election campaign, Kishida had an unimpressive 40-45% support rating. Suga’s initial support rating, on the other hand, was around 70%.

His lackluster debut is likely linked in part to mainstream support for Kishida’s rival in the party’s vote for Prime Minister Taro Kono, who is seen as something of a maverick.

Kishida has set a modest target for the PLD and its coalition partner Komeito. He wishes to jointly retain their majority, which would be 233 seats in the 465-member lower house. This is a low bar, given that the PLD alone had 276 seats before the elections. A big drop, even if the party retains its majority, would be a bad start for the weeks-old Kishida administration.

Media polls suggest the PLD is likely to lose seats, in part because five opposition parties have formed a united front in many small constituencies and are expected to win positions there.

If, as the Asahi newspaper and others predict, the ruling coalition wins around 261 seats, it could control all parliamentary committees and easily pass any divisive legislation.

Opposition leaders complain that recent LDP governments have widened the gap between rich and poor, failed to support the economy during the pandemic, and blocked gender equality and diversity.

But the opposition has long struggled to gain enough votes to form a government after a brief reign of the late center-left Democratic Party of Japan in 2009-2012. This government was overthrown by Abe, who continually pushed his party to the right, tightening control over bureaucrats and muzzling opposing views.

Although many people do not actively support the PLD, “there is little enthusiasm among voters for a change to an opposition-led leadership,” said Yu Uchiyama, professor of political science at the University of Tokyo. “The problem is that the opposition parties have not been able to present their grand vision of a future society” to become a viable option for leadership change.

In a recent NHK televised poll, more than a third of those polled chose Kishida’s party as their first choice; another third said they did not support a particular party. A united opposition had about 13% support.

“The next election is about how to overcome the pandemic crisis and determine a future path for Japan,” the conservative Yomiuri newspaper wrote in a recent op-ed. Liberal-leaning Asahi said the focus was on how to “conclude the Abe-Suga leadership which has deeply damaged Japanese democracy and regain confidence in politics.”

Kishida, a third generation politician from Hiroshima, was once considered a moderate. But he now advocates for a stronger army while backing down on gender equality, apparently to gain the support of influential figures within his party.

Experts say Kishida must show loyalty to the heavyweights of the party who chose him.

“Having ‘borrowed’ support from these factions, Kishida will continue to be beholden to the traditional political interests of the LDP,” wrote Aurelia George Mulgan, professor of social sciences at the University of New South Wales in East Asia. Forum. “Only a strong performance in the general election will strengthen Kishida’s ability to make the political, personal and political choices that will shape the future direction of his government.

Kishida called for cooperation with other democracies to counter China’s increasingly assertive activity in the region.

Worried about North Korea’s advances in nuclear and missile technology, Kishida said Japan should consider acquiring the ability to strike an enemy base as a deterrent option. The preemptive strike options are controversial, and critics say they go beyond Japan’s waiver of war constitution, which strictly limits the use of force to self-defense.

Economically, Kishida has emphasized distribution and growth through increased income, while opposition groups focus more on distribution of wealth and call for cash payments to affected low-income households. by the pandemic.

There are no big differences between the ruling and opposition blocs on Japan’s basic economic and security policies. But the LDP alone opposes legislation guaranteeing equality for sexual minorities and allowing separate surnames for married couples.

Of the 1,051 candidates, only 17% are women, despite a 2018 law promoting gender equality in elections, which is toothless because there is no sanction. Women represent around 10% of parliament.

Women’s rights experts characterize the extremely low presence of women in Japanese politics as a “democracy without women” and say they have little hope of achieving greater equality under the LDP regime.

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