The Cable

Abe Dissolves Japan’s Parliament Ahead of Snap Elections

The prime minister will face a new political threat from the “Party of Hope.”

abe koike

On Thursday, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe dissolved Japan’s parliament, the starting pistol for the snap elections he called a year early to get over a “national crisis.” Coincidentally, Abe concluded he needed a fresh electoral mandate just as his approval rating bounced back after an abysmal summer of scandals — and as the opposition seemed scattered.

“Seemed” being the operative word. Also this week, Yuriko Koike, the popular governor of Tokyo, created a new “Party of Hope” to challenge the duopoly that has dominated Japanese politics. The new group, which includes some defectors from both Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party and the opposition Democratic Party, was formed, Koike said, “because there’s a need for a force for reform with no political shackles, in the truest sense.”

Koike’s move could be a potential game-changer, said Céline Pajon of the French Institute of International Relations. “Before that, the opposition was in disarray and could not harm Abe, even if mounting voices are disapproving of his governing style,” she said. But elections are slated for Oct. 22, leaving the Party of Hope just a few weeks to get organized and built a slate of candidates. It also might need a real platform, Pajon says: “It will also have to convince voters that it has a real political project, beyond the anti-Abe stance.”

That could be difficult. Much of Koike’s rhetoric focuses on Abe’s style as much as his substance, especially his use of his majority to railroad through legislation. Even though the Party of Hope plays lip service to Japanese pacifism, which Abe has made some incremental moves to reform, she’s not a photo negative of the current prime minister.

“Policywise,” said Robert Dujarric of Temple University’s Institute of Contemporary Asian Studies, “she’s not different from Abe.” That means that, even if Koike does become prime minister, Japan’s national security and foreign policy won’t be drastically altered. That’s something for Washington to keep in mind — right as the habitual tensions and security scares in northeast Asia are being dialed up to new levels.

But Dujarric thinks Abe will survive, in any event. “She really only has a few weeks to start a new party and get candidates,” he said in an email to Foreign Policy.

Photo credit: Toru Yamanaka/AFP/Getty Images

Emily Tamkin is a staff writer at Foreign Policy covering ambassadorial and diplomatic affairs in Washington. @emilyctamkin

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