The Japanese, as was expected, have sharply punished the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), incumbent in power, returning a clear parliamentary majority to former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party (LPD), which might be considered the natural governing party in a land where it ruled for more than half a century until its resounding fall in 2009. The LDP’s majority, together with its traditional ally Komeito, might amount to as much as two-thirds of a 480-seat lower chamber, which would enable it to overrule the Senate, still controlled by the rival which it defeated in Sunday’s early elections.
It is unlikely, however, that this swing of the pendulum will produce any significant changes in the world’s third-largest economy, which has been stagnant since the bursting of the bubble in 1992. Just as unlikely as it is that Abe — a hawk, or at least a politician who is to the right of most of his predecessors and who denies Japanese atrocities committed in World War II — may supply the political leadership desired by the Japanese, who are disenchanted with the steamroller bureaucracy of the traditional political parties. In recent years this disenchantment has given rise to rightwing populist sentiment as alarming as that represented by the Japan Restoration Party.
The LDP, for all its rhetoric, has not notably reformed itself during its brief crossing of the desert; nor can any more trust now be placed in Abe than that which he frittered away in his disastrous mandate of 2006-07. His economic prescription involves an unconditional yes to nuclear energy, total laxity in monetary policy, and an increase in spending in an economy whose public debt is comparatively greater than that of Greece. The crushing victory of his conservative party reflects not so much a renewed enthusiasm on the part of the voters, as their desire to crush the incumbent Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda, particularly discredited for his handling of the Fukushima nuclear crisis after the earthquake in March 2011.
What Shinzo Abe may, however, bring to Japanese politics is a turnaround in foreign policy. The prime minister-elect advocates a change in the Constitution to give the armed forces a role greater than their present one of self-defense, and one of his campaign slogans calls for a tougher attitude to Beijing, with which Tokyo is now engaged in a tense standoff over some uninhabited islands in the East China Sea. Chinese military expansionism has aroused concern in the Japanese public, a feeling which has clearly boosted the return of the LDP.