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Tokyo dreams — On Japan snap polls (hindu)

Shinzo Abe’s decision to call parliamentary elections early could prove to be a gamble

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has gambled his career by calling snap elections to the Lower House of the Japanese Diet in late-October. The term of the House would have ordinarily lasted another year, but he clearly senses a turn in the popular breeze in his favour. Whether the electorate will vindicate his judgment, however, may well depend on the grit and tenacity of his challenger, Tokyo’s first woman Governor, Yuriko Koike. The former television anchor achieved an unprecedented feat last year by taking the city’s top job, trouncing the official nominee of Mr. Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party in a triangular race. Ever since, Ms. Koike, who had served briefly as defence minister during Mr. Abe’s first term in 2006-07, has become accustomed to thriving in a crisis. In a repeat of her growing penchant to take on a male-dominated establishment, Ms. Koike floated a local party earlier this year, which spectacularly captured the Tokyo city assembly in July. Now, following the surprise announcement of polls to the Lower House of the Diet, she has launched the Party of Hope, drawing a number of parliamentarians from across the spectrum, including the ruling camp. She has even pledged that her new party would field candidates across the country. In fact, Ms. Koike has been quick to exploit Mr. Abe’s decision to seek a fresh mandate more than a year in advance as merely a device to shore up power.

But the Tokyo Governor, in turn, would also be mindful of criticism that she is abandoning her current responsibilities with the plunge into national politics. This is especially so given the coming Olympic Games in Tokyo in 2020, and any impression that she is abdicating the preparatory work could be damaging. Meanwhile, the divided and demoralised opposition Democratic Party, in the midst of a leadership crisis, could work to project Mr. Abe as a symbol of relative stability especially at a time when the North Korean crisis shows no sign of abating. His own personal ratings have also seen a remarkable revival, after allegations of his links to controversial transactions in a land deal had led to a significant dip in opinion polls. The Prime Minister still has his share of challenges to contend with. A new anti-conspiracy legislation to combat terrorism was criticised for lack of public scrutiny and for incorporating intrusive provisions on individual privacy and free speech. Even if he can win a re-election, regaining the current two-thirds majority for his party is far from certain. Such a tally is critical for Mr. Abe to legislate the controversial revision to Japan’s pacifist constitution, over which he has staked his reputation. In substantial terms, though, voters may have little to choose between the conservative nationalist stances advocated by Mr. Abe and Ms. Koike.

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