EDITORIAL: Re-elected Abe must move closer to the will of the people
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was re-elected president of the Liberal Democratic Party on Sept. 8 without ballot. Seiko Noda, the only LDP legislator who sought to challenge Abe, failed to secure the recommendations from 20 Diet members required to run.
Noda was chairwoman of the LDP’s General Council in spring 2014, when she voiced “skepticism” about the procedures Abe chose to allow Japan to exercise its right to collective self-defense. Before the Cabinet convened to endorse Abe's intent to change the government’s traditional interpretation of the Constitution, Noda organized an intraparty debate on this matter.
At a Sept. 8 news conference where she announced her decision not to run, Noda said, “I wanted to create a situation where people would say there are diverse opinions within the LDP.”
There are 400-plus LDP legislators, but not even 20 came forward in support of Noda’s wish to create such a situation. This is pathetic.
Her attempt to secure recommendations from 20 lawmakers was hindered by certain party factions and individuals close to the prime minister who did not want her bid for the presidency to negatively affect the progress of Diet deliberations on the controversial national security bills.
The LDP is losing its traditional flexibility and readiness to accommodate the diverse wishes of the public from the entire political spectrum and reflect them in intraparty discussions. We are not saying we miss the old days of outright factional politics. But we are deeply apprehensive of the current LDP administration that obviously believes in rejecting any controversy to get things done smoothly.
In successfully blocking Noda’s candidacy, the bedrock of the Abe administration appears as solid as it could get. But that is not necessarily the case.
From the time Abe returned to power in December 2012, his administration owed its stability and popularity to the economic upturn that raised his Cabinet’s approval ratings. But when the global economy began to falter, so did its popularity, with non-approval ratings exceeding approval ratings.
Most importantly, the Abe administration has failed to win the support of the public on crucial policies.
In an Asahi Shimbun opinion poll conducted in late August, Abe’s statement for the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II was approved by 40 percent of respondents, as opposed to 31 percent who did not approve. But in the same survey, 65 percent saw “no need” to legislate the national security bills during the current Diet session, and 49 percent considered the restart of the Sendai nuclear reactor a “bad decision.”
With the national security legislation in particular, public opposition has grown in leaps and bounds as Diet deliberations continue. If Abe resorts to strength in numbers to steamroll the bills through the Diet, the gap between the administration’s intent and what the public wants will only widen further.
Abe pledged on Sept. 8 to continue to focus on economic growth. That in itself is fine, but he ought to understand that his modus operandi of relying on the robust economy to force divisive policies on the nation is nearing the end of its effectiveness.
Having secured another term as party president unchallenged, Abe is poised to get the national security legislation passed by the Diet as early as next week.
But before anything, he must do everything he can to bridge the divide between his stance and the will of the people. No matter how successful he may be in solidifying his intra-party base, ignoring the will of the people has its limits in politics.