No excuse not to deliver on the promises, Mr Abe

Japan’s Prime Minister now has a rare opportunity to push ahead with  reforms

Share

The emphatic victory of his Liberal Democratic Party in Sunday’s elections has given the Japanese Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, a rare opportunity to push through the long-term reforms long needed to put the world’s third largest economy on a new, more vigorous footing.

It is vital such a chance is not thrown away – and vital, too, that, armed with a mandate unprecedented in recent times, Mr Abe does not instead set his country on a path of nationalist confrontation with its neighbours.

Since he regained the prime ministership last December, he has made an encouraging start. Under what has been dubbed “Abenomics”, monetary and fiscal policies have been loosened. The result has been a surge in business confidence, as the stock market has soared 40 per cent since the start of 2013, while the yen has fallen, giving Japanese exporters, especially its struggling electronics companies, a needed boost. Consumers have yet to benefit, though Mr Abe insists they will. Sunday’s low turnout notwithstanding, the election result suggests they tend to believe him.

No less important, the outcome ends – for now at least – Japan’s so-called “twisted” democracy, under which opposing parties have each held one house of parliament since 2006, consigning the country to virtual political paralysis. Over that period, six prime ministers came and went, including a dismal first stint  from Mr Abe that ended, after only a year, with a popularity rating of 30 per cent. Now, barring a major surprise, he has three election-free years to push through the structural changes required for long-term success.

It is these that are the real test. Much-needed reforms include an overhaul of the pensions system, labour market deregulation, and agricultural modernisation to consolidate smaller units into larger and more efficient ones. But Japan is a highly traditional state. The steps required will inevitably bring Mr Abe into conflict with powerful groups like the unions and small farmers (these latter an important support base for the LDP). There is also the small matter of an increase in sales tax, set to double to 10 per cent in the next 18 months, which could jeopardise the current recovery.

There are other dangers, too. The Prime Minister has strong nationalist leanings which can have done him no domestic harm at a time when Japan feels threatened by the growing assertiveness of its traditional regional rival, China. Mr Abe would like to revise Japan’s pacifist constitution, drafted by the American occupiers after the Second World War. Seventy years on, a desire for a more powerful Japanese defence force is understandable. But nothing would be worse than to fuel further tensions in an already edgy region, where China and South Korea – ever mindful of Japan’s militaristic past – have long been upset by Mr Abe’s habit of playing down his country’s wartime atrocities.

Fortunately, in his second prime ministerial incarnation, he seems a wiser man, aware that the country is still wary of wholesale change to a constitution which on the whole has served it well. And aware, also, that Sunday’s vote, while impressive, is not a blank cheque. To borrow an old US political slogan: “It’s the economy, stupid”.

It is here that Mr Abe promises to focus – and he has promised much. His ability to deliver hinges on his ability to maintain his focus, while maintaining the unity of his party. A cabinet reshuffle this autumn will provide another pointer on how he plans to use last weekend’s victory – and whether he can make real progress towards the tricky structural reforms on which Japan’s future depends.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Spanish Speaking

£17000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - German Speaking

£17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Japanese Speaking

£17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you are fluent in Japanese a...

Recruitment Genius: Graphic Designer - Immediate Start

£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Errors & Omissions: Hang on – that’s not how it’s supposed to be written

Guy Keleny
Rafael Nadal is down and out, beaten by Dustin Brown at Wimbledon – but an era is not thereby ended  

Sad as it is, Rafael Nadal's decline does not mark the end of tennis's golden era

Tom Peck
Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
10 best statement lightbulbs

10 best statement lightbulbs

Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

Dustin Brown

Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test