This past October, the Liberal Democratic Party secured a definite majority in the Japanese Diet’s House of Representatives. This should come as no surprise, as the party also won the majority of the House of Councillors the year prior. And the election before that. And the election before that. And the election before that.
In fact, since their inception in 1955, the Liberal Democratic Party have served as the majority party of the Japanese government, barring two separate, but short, periods, during the 1990’s and late 2000’s. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has served as the party’s leader since they reassumed power in 2012.
The undying perseverance of the Liberal Democrats could strike one as peculiar: how could one party have such a stranglehold on the government for over 50 years? In a proto-typical democratic situation, power shifts when the holder of power fails to appease to their constituents. Is it feasible that the Liberal Democrats have done this for decades?
Not quite. In fact, the party’s support has gone down drastically, especially in regards to their leader, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Prime Minister Abe has been the center of a variety of scandals throughout his political career, one of the most recent being his possible involvement in a case of nepotism where a family acquaintance was sold public land at a discounted price. In the latter case, Abe has suffered criticism from his own party members. Along with that, Abe’s popularity rating in the Japanese voting population has also decreased as a result of his scandals and unpopular policy.
With a decreased voting power, coupled with an unpopular Prime Minister, this continues to beg the question of how this party can continue their dominance.
For the answer, we must look examine the Japan’s current climate. Since the formation of the North Korea state, relations between the former and Japan have been strenuous at best, marked cases of Japanese citizens being abducted and taken to North Korea and uncertainty regarding their nuclear program. Relations reached a pivotal downfall this past year when, on two separate times, tests dropped North Korean nuclear missiles into Japanese waters, spreading fear from Japanese citizenry and government alike concerning North Korea’s motives.
The Liberal Democrat Party offers something a new party or coalition cannot: stability. As the global situation of world politics changes, the Japanese citizenry look to maintain the items which they still have control over, that being their own government. A majority of the Japanese voting population have grown accustomed to a society with this particular government; as such, they will turn toward this during dire situations. More so than that, the length of their rule provides credibility to their actions, with voters believing the party to be knowledgeable about how the nation should be run.
Ironically, whilst voters look toward the Liberal Democrats for stability, the Liberal Democrats are focused on change. In 2017, Prime Minister Abe announced his plan to radically change the Japanese Constitution. One of Abe’s major changes would be the re-militarization of the nation. He points to the ongoing possible threats from North Korea and other such recent events as justification for this article change. Such a change is very drastic, as the constitution was created with a pacifist intention in mind, where the nation would not involve itself in conflicts through military means unless they were a direct attack on the state. This would not be Abe’s first step in militarizing the nation; in 2014, Abe put forth a re-interpretation of the Constitution, which allowed for Japan to deploy their military aid in the event that an ally state would come under attack. This move has been met with controversy, as this particular shift could spell doom for the pacifist role the state has identified with since the end of World War II. More so than that, it calls into question the motives of the Prime Minister in bringing about such a large change; after all, the most recent events with North Korea can be seen as no different than previous disputes and, therefore, could be a mere scapegoat for Abe’s ulterior motive for calling for such a reformation. Along with re-militarizing the state, in 2018, Prime Minister Abe and the majority coalition in the Japanese Diet were considering the elimination of Article 4 of Japan’s broadcasting law, which dictated that broadcasters be politically fair by presenting factual information and not negatively influencing public safety and public morale. With the removal of this article, it could result in unfair practices in Japanese media, such as demeaning advertisements targeted at political enemies, paid for by a particular party/coalition.
As a whole, the reign of LDP should not be looked upon as a victory for democracy, because it could very well result in the renunciation of many key aspects of the Japanese Constitution’s foundation. While it is too early to predict what path Abe’s campaign will take the nation, it is imperative to continue to examine what Prime Minister Abe and the Liberal Democrats will do to re-shape Japan as a nation.
LEILA ANN ASHMAN
I was very interested in this post because I am not aware of the state of many Asian democracies. I had believed Japan had a strong fair democracy so it was fascinating to learn that a single party has dominated Japanese politics for several decades. The militarization of Japan once again makes me question the government’s motives further than just protection from North Korea. Could this be the start of an attempt to reclaim and remain sovereign from democratic principles without hiding?