With the Upper House election looming, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s campaign strategy, which has been to oversell his economic policies while being evasive about his true political goal of revising the pacifist Constitution, has raised concerns of leading the voters astray and sending Japan down a dangerous road.
A recent poll by Kyodo News revealed that Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party and its coalition partner Komeito are likely to win at least 74 of the 121 seats up for grabs in the Upper House election, meaning seats held by the pro-constitutional amendment camp will easily account for more than two-thirds of the chamber, paving the way for Abe’s actual goal of revising the Constitution.
For years Abe has been a vigorous supporter of constitutional revision. But during the Upper House election campaign, both Abe and the LDP candidates, focusing on economic topics, rarely mentioned constitutional issues and evaded such questions raised by the opposition parties.
During a recent TV program, LDP Vice President Masahiko Komura, a key member of Abe’s coterie, even claimed “there is zero possibility” that Abe would try to revise Article 9 after the election even if the pro-revision camp secures more than two-thirds of the 242 seats in the Upper House, a statement immediately refuted by opposition parties and apparently inconsistent with the ruling party’s fundamentals.
In fact, The LDP has been advocating constitutional revision as part of its platform since the party was founded in the 1950s. In 2012, the party released its proposed draft constitution, including changing the sensitive Article 9, which states that the Japanese people “forever renounce war” and “use of force” as means of settling international disputes.
Komura’s inconsistent statement as well as Abe cunningly dodging the topic during the campaign, are widely considered by observers as tactics to disarm voters and distract them from the threat to the pacifist Constitution with pledges regarding welfare and economic issues.
According to a poll by Tokyo News earlier this month, 40.5 percent of those surveyed are against revising the Constitution under Abe administration, while only 28.9 percent are in favor.
“That’s underhanded of him (Abe),” Katsuya Okada, president of the main opposition Democratic Party, was quoted by local media as saying.
This is not the first time for Abe to resort to such a strategy. Abe campaigned on the back of economic policies in the 2012 general election and in the snap election in 2014. But what he achieved after assuming power was forcefully overturning Japan’s postwar laws on security policy despite massive demonstrations and protests from the public.
In the Upper House election campaign, Abe continued touting the so-called economic achievements of Abenomics, including improvement in the labor market, higher wages and fewer bankruptcies.
Yet in some analysts’ eyes, Abe and his LDP candidates only cited statistics that are convenient to them while missing out the bigger picture of the sluggish economy.
Three years into Abenomics, Japan saw real economic growth, or nominal economic growth adjusted for inflation or deflation, of only 0.8 percent last year, one of the lowest levels among major developed countries.
Meanwhile, consumer spending, which accounts for about 60 percent of the economy, fell in 2014 and 2015, with the inflation rate far away form the central bank’s goal of two percent, despite the Bank of Japan’s ultra-loose monetary policy.
Abe reintroduced his economic policy mix dubbed “Abenomics 2.0” last fall, pledging a number of goals including increasing GDP to 600 trillion yen (5.96 trillion U.S. dollars) by 2020, up from 491 trillion yen in fiscal year 2014.
“It just needs more time,” the prime minister pleaded in recent campaign, promising to rev up Abenomics and really get the economy moving forward.
Yet with Abe failing to bring out any effective plan to materialize the goal, and with concerns that he might shift the focus from economic development to constitutional amendment, Abe’s pledges might again end up as being merely empty words.
Abenomics has also been accused as only benefiting the large companies and widening the gap between the rich and the poor.
“Real economic policy means balancing growth with the distribution of wealth. Abenomics seeks only to make the economy bigger, it’s the wrong path,” said Okada. Enditem