Alarmed Japanese voters head to polls as threat of conflict with China looms
As eight fighter jets are scrambled over disputed islands, nationalist rhetoric grows louder
The threat of war has a way of concentrating minds and while few Japanese people believe conflict with China will actually come, they are heading to the polls this weekend with alarm bells ringing.
Japan scrambled eight F-15 fighter jets today after a Chinese government plane was reportedly spotted over territory disputed by both sides. The incursion, the latest by China over a small group of goat-infested islands they call the Diaoyu (Senkaku in Japan), may push Japanese voters further into the arms of right-wing candidates who want the nation to face down its increasingly powerful neighbour.
Among the most outspoken candidates is Shintaro Ishihara, who quit as Governor of Tokyo last month, pledging to ditch Japan's "ugly" war-renouncing constitution and take a tougher stance toward Beijing. At 80, the conservative warhorse has ruled himself out as the next Prime Minister and his sabre-rattling rhetoric is, in any case, too rich for most voters. But Mr Ishihara's Restoration Party, which wants to boost defence spending and revise the constitution, may hold the balance of power – the latest polls show it trailing behind the conservative Liberal Democrats (LDP) but ahead of the ruling Democrats (DPJ) in Sunday's general election.
Three years ago the left-leaning Democrats ended over half a century of LDP rule after promising something akin to a political revolution, tugging policy out of the hands of unelected bureaucrats, decoupling Japan from its six-decade US military embrace and shifting spending toward welfare. The Prime Minister at the time, Yukio Hatoyama, famously talked about feelings of "fraternity" toward China and the possibility of better relations.
Things look very different today. The DPJ has been reduced to a conservative rump. Most of its left has bolted, alienated by the party's drift from its 2009 manifesto.
The current Prime Minister, Yoshihiko Noda, has made little progress taming the bureaucracy, now strongly supports the US alliance and wants to cut welfare spending. He lost much of his support by backing the return of nuclear power after the Fukushima disaster and working with the LDP to introduce a controversial sales tax. With the economy now sliding into recession, some even predict a post-election DPJ/LDP merger.
A record 12 parties have announced battle stations since Mr Noda called the election last month. That leaves a lot to fight for in an election with possibly ominous implications for Japan's increasingly tense relationship with China. Several of the newer parties disagree on policy but merged anyway, united in their determination to pull Japan out of its economic and spiritual torpor, a strategy reflected in their vanguardist monikers: Sunrise, Restoration, Stand-Up, Renaissance. They also share a penchant for nationalist rhetoric.
Mr Ishihara has quickly showed his flair for commanding headlines with a string of inflammatory bon mots. He has repeatedly said that Japan should consider building nuclear weapons to combat the growing military threat from China. This week he said that Japan's pacifism emboldened North Korea to kidnap Japanese citizens. "North Koreans see Japan's constitution and think: 'They will never wage war'," he said. His decision earlier this year as Tokyo Governor to buy the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands triggered a damaging spat with Beijing that has sent relations into the deep freeze.
Japanese voters are desperate for solutions to these problems and generally show less enthusiasm for aggressive nationalism. But the question of how much power the nationalist right will wield may be key. One likely outcome is merger or coalition with the LDP under its new leader Shinzo Abe. Mr Abe also wants to dump the constitution. A well-known historical revisionist, he has said he will visit the Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo to honour Japan's wartime leaders.
Mr Abe, who was also Prime Minister five years ago, along with Mr Ishihara and their colleagues have tellingly dropped all references to Japan's war history as the election looms.
Key policy issues: What will decide the election?
All parties agree that the economy needs a jump-start, now that Japan has slid back into recession for the fifth time in 15 years. They are at odds, however, over how to achieve enduring growth.
Relations with China have been severely damaged by a territorial dispute over a group of islands known as Senkaku in Japanese and Diaoyu in Chinese.
Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda has lost much of his support by backing the return of nuclear power after the Fukushima disaster, despite mass protests.
Gillian Anderson lays into gender disparity in Hollywood
- 1 Snoop Dogg and Jared Leto buy a stake in Reddit as A-list invests $50m
- 2 Prince held a Facebook Q&A and this is the only question he answered...
- 3 'F*ck it, I quit': KTVA reporter Charlo Greene quits live on air in spectacular fashion
- 4 35,000 walrus gather ashore on north-west Alaska beach 'for a rest'
- 5 A teacher speaks out: 'I'm effectively being forced out of a career that I wanted to love'
Snoop Dogg and Jared Leto buy a stake in Reddit as A-list invests $50m
Prince held a Facebook Q&A and this is the only question he answered...
Brad Pitt, on the moment he completely lost his temper with Clint Eastwood's son
Cheryl Cole named 'the most dangerous celebrity' on the internet
Ebola virus in the US: What are the symptoms, what is it and is there a cure?
Exclusive: 'Putin's Russia has been my biggest regret,' says Nato's outgoing Secretary General
The Osborne Ultimatum: Chancellor’s benefits freeze bombshell will affect ten million households
There’s no excuse for Dave Lee Travis’s behaviour, but we need to keep a sense of proportion
Should gay sex be illegal? 16% of Britons think so
Mark Reckless becomes second Tory MP to defect to Ukip in a month
Benefits 'smart cards' plan revealed by Iain Duncan Smith to stop claimants spending welfare money on alcohol
- < Previous
- Next >
This is an unpaid volunteer role. : Belong: We are looking for volunteers who ...
£100 - £110 per day: Randstad Education Group: Supply Business Studies Teacher...
£110 - £125 per day: Randstad Education Cardiff: English Teacher - CaerphillyT...
Competitive Salary: Randstad Education Group: We have urgent and multiple vaca...