Saturday, November 22, 2014

Abe Shinzo's Mock Test Election

Yesterday Prime Minister Abe Shinzo dissolved the Diet and called an election of the House of Representatives. Constitutionally, the Emperor dissolved the Diet upon receiving the request of the full Cabinet. Realistically, this was one man's decision, that man being Prime Minister Abe.

In his speech explaining his decision to dissolve the Diet to the members of his party, Mr. Abe insisted that the name of this Diet dissolution is "the Abenomics Dissolution" -- and that the election is a de facto referendum on his whole economic program:

"Will Abenomics go forward? Will it come to a complete stop? That is what this election is asking. Are our economic policies mistaken? Are they correct? Is there some other choice? That is what I wish to ask the voters."

(Link - J)

This statement is, of course, a concatenation of nonsense. The origins and evolution of Abe's decision to dissolve the Diet are known and they have little to do with putting to the voters a decision on the success or failure of the Three Arrows of Abenomics. (Link)

Abe's adamant attachment of a name to dissolution is not an idle exercise, however. First, it satisfies the cultural imperative for a label explaining the cause of the dissolution, differentiating the current dissolution from its predecessors. There has been a lively, mostly sarcastic, debate in the press and online over what this particular dissolution should be called. Candidates have included the "Life Extension Program Dissolution," the "'The Reason for Dissolution is Classified' Dissolution,"the "Moron's Dissolution" and "I've Got Personal Problems Dissolution."

Second, and more importantly, Abe has probably succeeded in focusing the purported debate in this election on his economic program. One has to say "purported" because there cannot be a real debate on Abenomics, not in the existing political environment.

If Abe wanted a real debate, he would want a real debating partner. However, none of the potential main opponents in this election -- the Democratic Party of Japan, the Japan Innovation Party or the Communists -- have the full set of weapons necessary to take the fight to Abe and the ruling Liberal Democratic Party/Komeito coalition. The DPJ has the national organization and the gravitas but has a terrible leader, no alternative economic program and an insufficient number of candidates running. The JIP has two good leaders in Hashimoto Toru and Eda Kenji and is a regional power but is still seen as a lightweight organization nationally. It also will be running too few candidates. The Communists have the candidates, the alternative plan and the national reach. No one could ever accuse them, however, of being seriousness in terms of policy.

Abe has furthermore stacked the deck in setting his pass/fail level in the number of seats at an absurdly low level. The ruling coalition had 326 of 480 seats in the just dissolved House of Representatives -- a greater than two-thirds majority. However, in his speech announcing his dissolution plan, Abe said he would consider the coalition's holding on to a majority in the new slimmed-down 475 member Diet -- i.e., 238 seats -- as his victory line.

The thought that a prime minister could voluntarily call an election, see 88 of his allies go down to defeat, then blithely go on about his business is absurd. The secretary-generals of the ruling parties, meeting after Abe's declaration, came up with a figure of 270 seats as the pass/fail line -- four more than the crucial 266 seats required to have dictatorial control over all the committees of the House of Representatives.

The chances of the ruling coalition losing 88 seats is unimaginable. That it will lose even 56 requires a vivid imagination.

What Abe, the ruling coalition and Abenomics are going to is not a real test. The test is on a fictional subject of the prime minister's choosing; it is (essentially) impossible to fail. In Japanese, this should be the 模擬試験解散 (mogi shiken kaisan): the Mock Test Dissolution.

I expect Abe-san to pass it.

Photo image credit: MTC

1 comment:

Carlo said...

Wouldn't a keeping the current ruling coalition's supermajority (that would be 317 seats in the new Diet, I believe?) be a more realistic test?
Sure, they don't need it to past legislation, having a majority in the HoC as well. But losing that would make Abe's goal of rewriting the constitution even harder than now, and all for an election that needn't be had in the first place.