On Sunday, Japan is slated to head to the polls for a parliamentary election that has many in the country scratching their heads.
“I don’t understand at all why he has to call an election,” one voter told the Financial Times.
Sheila Smith, a Senior Fellow on Japan Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, agrees that the Japanese public is generally “confused about why they have to have an election right now,” adding that many see it as a reflection of Mr. Abe’s ambitions rather than the best interests of the country.
Indeed, the timing appears more political than practical. The vote comes only two years into Mr. Abe’s four year term, and there is little doubt about the outcome. With the opposition fielding only 198 candidates for 475 parliamentary seats, his ruling coalition is all but assured a win.
Mr. Abe announced the snap elections last month in the wake of data showing that Japan’s economy had slipped into a recession for the first time since the global financial collapse in 2008. The drop is largely being attributed to his plan to hike Japan’s consumption tax, a move that is part of a wide ranging economic revival plan colloquially known as “Abenomics.”
“Really what he’s asking is can the conservative party, which he’s [the] head of, and their coalition party the Komeito, continue to govern and govern longer,” said Smith of an election that will give the victor four years in office. “It’s a mandate on Abe. [But] What Mr. Abe reads into the mandate, is debatable.”
With the win guaranteed, Smith will be looking to other indicators – such as voter turnout – as more telling measures of what’s to come for Mr. Abe’s next term. But, as tepid campaign slogans like “to revive the economy, there is no other way” suggest, excitement is at a minimum.