Japanese PM Shinzo Abe has taken a beating in the polls lately as he attempts to remilitarize his country, pursuing a constitutional reinterpretation that would allow Tokyo to deploy its Self-Defense Force much more freely. The reinterpretation is unpopular: Japan’s post-World War II constitution explicitly “renounce[s] war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes” and pacifism has become an important part of the country’s political culture.
Trying to upend that has cost Abe dearly, as Bloomberg reports:
Spending hours defending his security policies on television, scrapping a $2 billion Olympic stadium plan and playing up concerns about China, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is battling to claw back a slide in support.
His approval rating plunged below 40 percent in polls taken after he pushed bills through parliament last week to expand the role of Japan’s military. While he’s at no immediate risk of being ousted, he must avoid dropping into the danger zone around the 20 percent mark at which successive premiers have been toppled at the ballot box or by their party.
It’s only half-right to say that Abe has pushed the defense bills through parliament. So far, they’ve just gone through the lower house; they still have to pass in the upper house before the legislative session ends on September 27. And as the Japan Times has detailed, the opposition Councilors can waste time there, dragging out the debates over other major issues, such as the TPP and construction of the infrastructure for the 2020 Olympics. Still, unless the opposition gets lucky, or unless Councilors within Abe’s coalition defy the prime minister, the bills are more likely than not to pass.
Abe’s military agenda, in other words, is teetering on the brink of victory, even as the prime minister himself comes uncomfortably close to the brink of defeat. Abe’s economic agenda—Abenomics, colloquially—is well liked; the snap elections the PM called at the end of 2014 were widely seen as a referendum on Abenomics, and he won. But his remilitarization agenda is making him unpopular enough that it could threaten his position. The stakes are high: Japan is the only country in China’s neighborhood with enough economic might to field a military that can challenge Beijing’s hegemony.