Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has announced he plans to dissolve parliament this Thursday and take the country to the polls next month.
He is striking while the iron is hot – a weekend survey by the Nikkei newspaper showed 44 per cent of voters planned to vote for Prime Minister Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party versus 8 per cent for the main opposition Democratic Party
Mr Abe has been in power for almost five years. He was elected in late 2012, promising to turn around Japan’s sleepy economy.
Since then, he has dominated the political sphere in Japan – the opposition parties are a shambles and, as the polls attest, do not offer a viable option for voters.
But it has not all been smooth sailing. Just a few months ago, Mr Abe had the stink of controversy emanating from his favoured royal-blue suit.
A series of scandals involving cronyism and back-room deals saw his approval rating sink to the doldrums, and there was even speculation that his foreign minister could challenge for the leadership.
It turns out there is nothing like the threat of nuclear war to turn around one’s political fortunes.
From below 30 per cent back in July, playing statesman and taking a turn on the world stage has seen Mr Abe’s popularity rating claw back to 44.5 per cent earlier this month.
“North Korea has played a decisive role in helping boost Abe’s support amongst anxious voters and it’s putting wind into his sails for his security agenda,” said Professor Jeff Kingston, the director of Asia studies at Temple University.
North Korea to dominate campaign
That security agenda would see Mr Abe revise Japan’s post-war pacifist constitution to allow the country to make its own decisions about military deployment.
The last two election campaigns in Japan have focused on the economy.
In 2012, Mr Abe’s platform was given the moniker “Abenomics”, and while that label has stuck, his promised “three arrows” of monetary easing, fiscal loosening and structural change are yet to strike their targets.
Each time the government has started to make progress, Mr Abe has called an election.
“It’s really remarkable for a leader who has that much power how little he’s accomplished legislatively in terms of addressing the critical problems facing the country,” Professor Kingston said.
While Mr Abe’s party is likely to offer voters sweeteners on education and childcare, the election campaign will be dominated by the North Korean crisis.
Since August 29, residents of the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido have been rudely awakened by alarms and sirens telling them that a North Korean missile was passing overhead.
As well as that, a nuclear bomb was detonated in North Korea that was 17 times the size of that which destroyed Hiroshima.
“Voters are highly sensitive to what is going on in North Korea and very worried about these developments and I think that is pushing them to support Abe,” Professor Kingston said.