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Foreign Policy

Abe Returns: Election Victory No Bliss

Dec 31 , 2012

Shinzo Abe has led the Liberal Democratic Party to win the Japanese House of Representatives election. However, the election victory doesn’t mean a widespread support for the winner; nor does it deserve any hype, given the unfavorable statistics in the voting.

The past few days witnessed the lowest voter turnout in the Japanese Diet election since the end of World War II. According to official statistics, the turnout rate was lower than 60 percent, indicating that more than 40 million of the country’s 100 million-member electorate dumped their ballots. In contrast to the 2009 election that toppled the LDP from power, people voting for the party were 10 million less this year. Japanese media attributed the apathy to voters’ last-minute vacillation. On December 13, three days before the poll, about 40 percent of voters were still wavering. A reader of a newspaper likened the election to a food street where all eateries hawk their food but none of them can provide stuff that is really attractive to the customer.

Whatever the food, lunch has to be had at lunchtime. The LDP finally won over the “customers” thanks to its being a “big restaurant of famous brand”. On the contrary, the Democratic Party, a new player in the “eatery street”, failed to impress the customers. The DP’s poor performance over the past three years, especially in dealing with the March 11 earthquake and tsunami last year, has failed the Japanese people in their expectation for reforms. Therefore, the voters abandoned the DP resentfully and gave scant support to the Japan Restoration Association and Your Party, which also disappointed them as what they had regarded as a reform force. The LDP thus pocketed most of the “passively cast” votes.

In fact, the LDP failed to garner even half the votes in the 300 single-seat districts although it won the election. This indicates that the victory is far from a proof of having won the people’s trust. It was nothing else but the country’s electoral system that helped the LDP win 80 percent of the seats in the lower house. In the current electoral system, the single-seat districts voting plays the decisive role. A candidate only needs to win one more vote than the rival to clinch the victory. This is like the “Othello game”, in which the black and white can flip over instantaneously. The LDP is obviously fully aware of the game and that’s why Abe’s after-victory smile soon faded into a grim face.

Abe’s seriousness is not without a meaning. He has said that his new cabinet would face “heavy responsibilities” in leading Japan to “break through” crises. The crises, as mentioned in the LDP’s campaign program, are related to economy, education, foreign relations and reconstruction of disaster-hit areas. Tackling these crises is not an easy job. In a Facebook message posted on December 17, Abe put on a grave face of a samurai, saying that “the real battle has just begun.”

However, crises can not be overcome only by assuming a battling posture. In Chinese physiognomy, Abe’s countenance suggests anxiety and rigidness. Such a character usually generates a narrow-minded approach to things and will eventually bring one to a dead end. This is how Japan fared in the past two decades and also why we worry about Abe’s performance in the future. Take the relationship with China for example. Although he expressed a willingness to improve it after the election, at least three statements he made in the past few days proved worrying.

First, he said he would handle the Sino-Japanese relations from a global perspective by strengthening the US-Japan alliance and forging closer ties with India and Australia. Developing relationship with other countries is Japan’s own business. But if it is aimed at containment of China, the move will be of no avail except causing the Sino-Japanese relations to further deteriorate.

Second, Abe said that “there is no room for negotiation” on the issue of the Diaoyu Islands. If the Abe administration refuses to recognize the dispute and goes on with the so-called “practical control”, the territorial dispute will escalate to push the two countries to confrontation and even war.

Third, he said he “regrets awfully for failing to visit the Yasukuni shrine” when he last time served as Japanese prime minister. During that tenure, Abe was known for his “ambiguous attitude” on the issues of Yasukuni and Japan’s historical responsibility. If he can not even maintain such a low attitude as being “ambiguous” on those issues in his new tenure, he will not only be regarded as dishonest in the Sino-Japanese relationship, but will also be denied a chance to contribute to the improvement of the bilateral relations.

Of all the crises faced by Japan, the current one is the Fukushima nuclear accident that is still in ferment; the mid-term one is the economy that has been mired in sluggishness for more than 20 years; and the long-term one is how to secure a “peaceful and prosperous” development. Let’s hope that the Prime Minister-elect Abe will bring Japanese people peace rather than peril.

Dr. Jin Ying is a researcher at the Institute of Japan Studies at China’s Academy of Social Sciences

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