ANALYSIS: Despite landslide win, Abe not assured of smooth sailing

December 17, 2012


Despite the landslide victory on Dec. 16 by his Liberal Democratic Party, Shinzo Abe has not been given a blank check to govern in his second chance as prime minister due to Diet gridlock as well as potential problems from within his now huge ruling party.

Still, LDP executives were trying to suppress their giddiness as positive election results poured in from around the nation.

"This does not mean that trust has returned completely to the LDP," Abe said in response to questions on a TV program.

Earlier on Dec. 16, Abe decided to retain Shigeru Ishiba as secretary-general to prepare for next summer's Upper House election as well as to ensure party unity in preparing to take control of the government.

A major hurdle facing the new administration will be the massive number of party members in the Diet. While the LDP only had 200 lawmakers in both chambers of the Diet before the start of the Lower House campaign, that number will jump close to double as a result of the election. If Abe faces difficulties in managing the huge ruling party and there is disagreement between the prime minister's office and the ruling party, policy decisions may not be made smoothly.

The landslide victory means that many former lawmakers who lost in the bitter 2009 Lower House election that put the Democratic Party of Japan into power will return to office. That could, in turn, lead to a return of influence by the party factions that had weakened due to the large loss of seats in the last election.

Abe has sought to move the LDP away from a dependence on factions and has compiled a party reform plan that would give party headquarters the upper hand in making personnel decisions for party and government posts. However, there are still questions as to how effective that plan will be.

Some of Abe's close associates have said he does not have enough aides to exercise control over the party. That could leave room for party factions to once again demonstrate their influence.

On the other hand, if Abe once again depends on close associates, he might end up repeating the errors made during his first stint as prime minister when his Cabinet was criticized as being made up of his friends rather than capable ministers. Those errors contributed to Abe's decision to resign in July 2007 after less than one year in office.

Abe admitted on the TV program on Dec. 16 that he may have tried too hard the last time he was prime minister and that he would avoid a high-handed style of government. Overcoming Diet gridlock will also be a major hurdle for Abe.

The DPJ controls the most number of seats in the Upper House, and the party could put up resistance to bills and approval of personnel nominations made by the government.

The ruling coalition between the LDP and New Komeito reached the 320 seats in the Lower House that would allow it to pass legislation on a second vote and override defeats of bills by the Upper House. However, there is also strong public resistance to the ramming through of legislation using that procedure.

For that reason, those close to Abe are seeking to gain a majority in the Upper House by trying to woo individual lawmakers from the DPJ, the New Renaissance Party and independents.

Another possibility would be forming partnerships with parties that have similar policy stances as the LDP. For example, Abe has similar economic policy views as Yoshimi Watanabe, the head of Your Party, which has 11 seats in the Upper House. Abe also shares similar views on constitutional revision as Shintaro Ishihara, the former Tokyo governor who heads the Japan Restoration Party.

With an Upper House election set for next summer, some close to Abe have said that passing the budget for fiscal 2013 should be the only thing the new government should seek to accomplish until next summer.

However, Abe may take the results of the Lower House election as a mandate for some of his more aggressive campaign planks, such as constitutional revision, the right to collective self-defense and renaming the Self-Defense Forces to a national military.

For that reason, one LDP lawmaker with Cabinet ministerial experience said, "If the Abe administration should err in management of government by overreaching, there could be major ramifications in the Upper House election."

A total of 118 seats are needed to gain a majority in the Upper House. The DPJ has 88 seats. The LDP and New Komeito combined only have 102 seats, meaning it needs an additional 16 seats for a majority in that chamber.

Abe will seek to establish a stable government by winning next summer's Upper House election when 121 seats will be up for grabs. The ruling coalition would have to win a total of at least 63 seats to gain a majority in that chamber.

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Gridlock is expected to continue in the Diet as the Liberal Democratic Party and New Komeito do not currently control a majority of seats in the Upper House. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

Gridlock is expected to continue in the Diet as the Liberal Democratic Party and New Komeito do not currently control a majority of seats in the Upper House. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

  • Gridlock is expected to continue in the Diet as the Liberal Democratic Party and New Komeito do not currently control a majority of seats in the Upper House. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

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