The primary purpose of the election is to ensure that PM Abe is able to continue as president of the LDP beyond September next year. Under the LDP constitution, the president of the party is also the party’s nominee for the position of prime minister. Should the PM cease to be president during their time in office, then they also cease to be PM, and an entirely new president (PM) must be chosen from among the factions. Abe is still relatively popular among the general population (compared to the opposition parties), and certainly has a greater chance of outperforming any alternative candidate for the position of president. Yet knowing that he could not take the risk of going all the way to September only to find himself undermined from within (possibly by Ishiba Shigeru), Abe moved first, and with the prime ministership under his belt yet again will be able to create overwhelming numbers in the LDP for his presidency.
There are, of course, many questions about whether PM Abe, having won government yet again, will go any further in his pursuit of Abenomics. So far, there has been a tremendous amount of stimulus poured into the economy, together with infrastructure project announcements (the main beneficiary of the ‘second arrow’ of Abenomics), but nothing related to structural reform. As has been said time and again, this ‘third arrow’ will be the most difficult to implement and the most likely to cause major upheavals in the way Japanese business and politics operates. Even though Abe will emerge as the victor on Sunday, one cannot say that this gives Abe a mandate to go ahead with reform plans (if this is what the Abe cabinet ultimately intends to do).
The other issue that might cause some backlash at the polls concerns the ‘State Secrets Law’ that went into force on Wednesday (the 10th). Under this law, the maximum penalty applied to public servants for revealing information that has been designated as ‘secret’ is 10 years, while any citizens or journalists who reveal such information will be looking at 5 years maximum imprisonment. As to what constitutes ‘secret’ information, the wording of the law essentially makes any document eligible for that criteria. The Tokyo Shimbun reported on Thursday that wrangling between the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Cabinet Law Office resulted in a much-expanded definition of secret information, with MOFA concerned that any treaty it might make with the US or another foreign country might fall outside the original definition of ‘secret’ given that it was only meant to apply to documents relating to Japan’s domestic security (J).
The entry into force of the law has many journalists in Japan worried, quite understandably when they face 5 years in prison should they happen to report on something that is designated as secret. When the announcement of the passage of the law was made in December last year, it was welcomed in Washington, but was met with a fair degree of scepticism in Japan among academics and the general public, who saw in the law an attempt to hide any accountability by the government for decisions related to collective self defence (J). The law has many worried that Abe is taking the country down a dangerous path, reducing government accountability while increasing activities that might not be sanctioned by the constitution. Whether this does impact upon Sunday’s electoral result is questionable, but it will cause a considerable degree of anguish in the months to come.