Coalition Victory Unlikely to Lead to Constitutional Amendment
The LDP-Komeito coalition is expected to win big in the July 10 upper house election, but even if it secures a two-thirds majority, this is unlikely to prompt moves toward a constitutional amendment. Voters may not be happy with Abenomics, says Senior Fellow Tsuneo Watanabe, but they find the opposition parties even less attractive.
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The coalition government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is expected to score a solid victory in the July 10, 2016, House of Councillors election, but even if the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and its coalition partner Komeito win a two-thirds majority, this is unlikely to prompt moves toward a constitutional amendment. One big factor is the presence of Komeito in the coalition, which is very reluctant to amend Article 9.
The strong support for the coalition clearly indicates that the opposition parties have failed to appeal to their constituencies with attractive alternative policies for social security and long-term economic strategy. The Democratic Party actually agreed with Abe’s decision in June to postpone the consumption tax hike, so it squandered an opportunity to make fiscal consolidation a key election issue.
The public is not yet comfortable with amending Article 9 of the Constitution, as suggested by the protests last year when the Abe administration enacted new security legislation. This was not a popular move, and Komeito is now very reluctant to go any further because they have already spent a lot of political capital.
The two-thirds majority that the coalition and other likeminded parties are likely to win in the upper house contest is a kind of coincidence—an issue that the opposition parties have created in an effort to gain public support. The reality is that the government is not serious about making a constitutional amendment at this time.
Voters Look for Stability
People do not feel very comfortable with the economic situation. They are not really in favor of the Abe administration but want a stable government that can take measures to stimulate economic activity, create long-term stability, and advance fiscal consolidation. The LDP will likely seek a continuation of the Abenomics policy of economic growth, the focus shifting henceforth to structural issues like utilization of women’s labor and the revitalization of outlying areas.
Public support for Abenomics, though, is not very high, as it has not yet produced the results that were promised. This is a problem faced not just by Abe, though, as achieving immediate results with any economic policy can be very difficult. There was initial optimism after the implementation of the first two “arrows”—monetary easing and fiscal stimulus—but this has not led smoothly to the next stage, which was structural reform. This last arrow takes time to produce results, so Abe has been facing a difficult situation.
The opposition parties are really helping Abe’s hand because of their own troubles. The negative legacy of the years when the Democratic Party of Japan was in power from 2009 to 2012 has hindered efforts to create a reliable alternative. Although they have agreed to pool their support in certain electoral districts for the upper house election, the opposition parties have not made much progress in strengthening cooperation in other areas because they do not have a common understanding on policy.
After their expected setback in the upcoming election, the opposition parties are likely to be beset by internal struggles, which will prove to be an even bigger obstacle to winning back the public’s trust and support.