Abe Opts for Snap Election as Regional Tensions Escalate

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has announced plans to dissolve the Parliament and hold a general election in the second half of October, more than a year before the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) government is required to seek a renewal of its mandate.  Corruption scandals implicating the prime minister and his wife sent Abe’s approval rating plummeting, with the results of three polls released in July putting his support at less than 30%.  However, his popularity has rebounded in step with the rising security threat posed by North Korea, which has reordered the priorities of Japanese voters, who are now more concerned about Abe’s leadership abilities than his ethical lapses.  With polls conducted in September showing an average approval rating of 44%, and a recent FNN poll putting his support above 50%, the prime minister is gambling that acting now will enhance his chances of securing a fresh four-year mandate.

The LDP is polling closer to 40%, but support for the main opposition Democratic Party (DP) is stuck in single-digit territory, and no other party is polling higher than 5%.  That said, some 40% of the electorate remains undecided, creating the potential for an unexpected outcome.  In that regard, the results of local elections held in Tokyo in early July are especially noteworthy.  Voters in Tokyo punished the LDP, which won just 23 seats in the 127-member Metropolitan Assembly, while Tomin First, a party formed earlier this year by the popular Tokyo governor, Yuriko Koike, managed to secure the election of all but one of its 50 candidates.  Just hours before Abe announced the snap election, Koike revealed that she intended to take her movement national, announcing the formation of the Party of Hope, which will provide a conservative alternative for voters disgusted with the corrupt incumbent could complicate Abe’s plans.

It is unclear whether Koike’s party can compete at the national level, particularly given the degree to which experience and steady leadership are likely to factor in voters’ choices at the upcoming election.  That said, the emergence of a new party that is untainted by corruption increases the likelihood that the LDP’s majority will be reduced, in which case, Abe will be forced to put his plans to amend Japan’s pacifist constitution on hold.  That could have a positive impact on…