The American Interest
Analysis by Walter Russell Mead & Staff
Japan’s PM Noda Dissolves Parliament, Calls Election

Japanese politics are often dreadfully dull, but this month we’re beginning to see signs of life. In what by Tokyo standards is a shockingly bold move, Japanese Prime Minister Noda dissolved the lower house of parliament today, calling for elections one month from now. This will likely put Shinzo Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party back in power for the first time since its historic defeat in 2009. Noda has come under increasing pressure on a range of issues—from the way he handled the aftermath of the earthquake and tsunami to Japan’s failing economy, his doubling of the consumption tax, and an escalating dispute with China over the Senkaku Islands.

Noda’s latest move preempts fears he had of a “coup” from within his own party during an upcoming visit to Cambodia, according to an aide. It also may blunt the momentum of rising populist third parties like former Tokyo Governor “Grandpa” Ishihara’s Sunrise party and Toru Hashimoto’s Tea Party-like Restoration party, which now have much less time to iron out their differences and combine forces. But even this is unlikely to be enough to help Noda win reelection: most analysts expect LDP chief (and former Prime Minister) Shinzo Abe to win next month, albeit without enough seats in Parliament to win an absolute majority. The New York Times reports:

Polls indicate that the conservative, business-friendly LDP will win the most seats in the 480-seat lower house but will fall far short of a majority. That would force it to cobble together a coalition of parties with differing policies and priorities.

“It’s unlikely that the election will result in a clear mandate for anybody,” said Koichi Nakano, a political science professor at Sophia University. “So in that sense, there’s still going to be a lot of muddling through.”

The election, and the divided government that is likely to follow, complicate efforts to extricate Japan from its two-decade economic slump and effectively handle the cleanup from its 2011 nuclear disaster.

It’s clear that Japan’s current government isn’t getting the job done, but it’s not clear that Abe and the LDP, which ruled Japan for more than fifty years before its 2009 defeat, are a much better option. More likely, Japan will end up swapping one weak, inconsequential coalition for another.

But it seems likely that the country’s drift toward tougher policies on China will continue. That is a trend permeating much of the political establishment and it seems likely that most if not all of the parties involved in a new Japanese coalition will back a more nationalist approach to disputes with Beijing.

Published on November 16, 2012 7:00 pm