Is Japan about to undergo a dramatic political change?

Written by By Yusef Najafi, CNN This article was originally published in November 2016. It is a vote that political observers around the world are watching closely. The first major test of the popularity…

Is Japan about to undergo a dramatic political change?

Written by By Yusef Najafi, CNN

This article was originally published in November 2016.

It is a vote that political observers around the world are watching closely. The first major test of the popularity of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government will be held on Wednesday in the form of a parliamentary election.

A major shift in the balance of power in Japan has been predicted — possibly as significant as that in the UK in June 2015, which gave the opposition Labour Party — led by Jeremy Corbyn — its first ever victory in a national election.

The world’s third-largest economy has suffered several recessionary periods over the past two decades. It has also grappled with a sluggish — and shrinking — population. These issues have become powerful factors in driving opinion polls — particularly against a background of political gridlock.

Many predict there will be a shift in the country’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) to the right, with voters looking for measures to boost jobs and rejuvenate the economy, and also faster reduction of social welfare programs.

The country’s capital city, Tokyo, has been hotly contested territory — where it has held both a major prime ministerial election and a parliamentary election.

CNN’s Pacifica anchor Soledad O’Brien visits a Japanese innovation lab in Tokyo. Credit: Tassanee Vejpongsa/Courtesy of Pacifica

After 20 years of LDP rule, it is likely Tokyo will be the next to go. It is thought the LDP will take control of the city’s upper house, but not its lower house, a situation similar to that seen in Britain in 2015, when the Conservatives failed to gain a majority of seats in Parliament.

Turnout in the lower house election in 2015 was extremely low at around 30%. But that is expected to rise at least to 50%, with many predicting that it could be as high as 60%.

Newly elected Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe gestures during a meeting with Japan’s top politician after his party election victory in Tokyo, Thursday, Dec. 16, 2010. Credit: Kyodo/Associated Press

Turnout could be unusually high for the election because the LDP’s main rival, the New Komeito Party, has unofficially boycotted the polls.

The opposition party has often used the city as a platform to rail against Abe’s policies, and it has been evident that the party would strongly contest the election in the city — the LDP held a recent rally attended by some 800,000.

Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike (L) and LDP secretary general Nobuteru Ishihara, who has had a fractious relationship, walk by journalists during a news conference in Tokyo on October 28, 2015.

While elections this close to the 2020 Olympics have a lot riding on them, no city on earth has ever held both an Olympic and a general election, so this month’s election in Tokyo would bring fresh dimension to the proceedings.

Yuriko Koike, who will be governor of Tokyo after taking over from former LDP leader Shinzo Abe in September, is expected to win. The LDP remains less popular than its main rivals, but Koike will have to follow established party rules when it comes to forming her own government.

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