Koichi Nakano, Sophia University, Tokyo –
TOKYO — Last month, when Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan dissolved Parliament and called a snap election for Oct. 22, he seemed to be making the decision from a position of strength. The opposition was in disarray, and his popularity ratings were picking up again, his hawkishness apparently vindicated by North Korea’s mounting belligerence.
In fact, the decision was a sign of weakness — of Mr. Abe’s political weakness and also, more problematically for the country, of a crisis of representativeness in Japanese politics. Whatever the outcome of the election on Sunday, a gap is growing between voters’ policy preferences and the new conservative two-party system that seems to be emerging as the liberal-left opposition is shoved aside.
There is some debate over the precise circumstances under which the executive branch may dissolve the legislature, known as the Diet, but most constitutional law scholars agree that the prime minister does not have free rein, and some criticized Mr. Abe’s move as partisan and unconstitutional. The public did not seem to appreciate the decision either: In one Kyodo poll, more than 60 percent of respondents said they found it objectionable.
Mr. Abe’s decision was seen as self-serving not least because he is perceived to have been dodging the Diet’s efforts to hold him accountable for two scandals possibly involving nepotism and an alleged cover-up concerning the activities of Japan’s Self-Defense Force in South Sudan. In June, the prime minister shut down Parliament’s ordinary session soon after pushing through a controversial anti-conspiracy law that gives broad surveillance power to the police at the expense of civil liberties.