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

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

 

In Sickness and in Health: 'I'm really happy to be alive and to see Rebecca'

Rebecca Armstrong
Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine