Expert Weighs Recent Elections In Japan

Richard Samuels.
Richard Samuels.

HOUSTON, July 23, 2013 — Richard J. Samuels is a Ford International Professor of Political Science, Director of the Center for International Studies, and Director of the MIT-Japan Program at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He is featured in the Authors on Asia series on September 10 at Asia Society Texas Center.

In giving the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) coalition a majority in both houses of Parliament, what message, if any, was the Japanese public sending?

Most say that this was a referendum on [Shinzō] Abe’s economic policies, but since so few turned out to vote, it is hard to exactly know what the Japanese public was signaling. If I had to guess, though, I would think of this as an expression of voter frustration with Japan’s “twisted Diet.” Voters were, I think, expressing a preference to end legislative paralysis and for a parliament that works.

What is biggest roadblock for Abe in trying to turn around Japan's economy?

As always, the biggest obstacle for any Japanese politician remains the electorate’s deeply held opposition to trade liberalization. This is not just about protecting farmers, but includes concerns by the middle class that market opening will affect their health care and other services. He will also face strong opposition to going forward with the scheduled increase on the consumption tax, a measure that has already passed Diet with LDP support. Finally, there is likely a limit on how much restructuring Japanese firms are willing to undertake.

What are the odds Abe will succeed in rewriting Japan's pacifistic constitution to give the country a more muscular military posture in the world?

I think the chances for constitutional revision are extremely low; indeed Abe himself said as much on election night when his bloc failed to achieve the requisite 2/3 majority required. It is more likely that his government will reinterpret Article Nine to allow for collective self defense, something they can do without legislative action or national referendum.


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