Japan heads to the polls tomorrow and is expected to give the sitting Prime Minister Shinzo Abe a substantial victory in the upper house, which will add to the majority he already has in the lower house. This will give him the most coherent majority that any Japanese prime minister has enjoyed in decades — and hopefully make him confident enough to continue to tackle Japan’s deep-seated economic problems. Japan needs a period of strong and stable government and the revolving door on the prime minister’s office has been a disaster.
Abe has abandoned years of economic caution, which simply reinforced Japan’s 15-year deflationary recession. One of Asia’s largest economies should return to its natural place. To restart the Japanese economy, Abe has allowed a strong dose of inflation and if he holds his nerve and is not deflected by frightened bankers or popular political pressure to stop his planned large privatisations, he could become the architect of Japan’s economic revival, which would be welcome for the global economy and all of Japan’s trading partners, which include the Gulf states as they supply that thirsty country with large and long-term contracts of oil.
There should be a note of caution attached to Abe’s newfound confidence. A large part of his political message is a renewed pride in Japanese values, which also has a powerful nationalistic element. If this pride takes him into xenophobic conflict with his neighbours, then there could be serious problems. Japan has several quarrels with China and Korea over disputed islands and it will be wrong to let these issues get out of hand.
However, a more delicate domestic issue is Abe’s desire to rewrite the America-imposed pacifist constitution and return to Japan the right to have armed forces. This may frighten Japan’s neighbours, but it also worries the vast majority in Japan who are happy with the way things are. So a large majority for Abe is a cause to celebrate, as long as he focuses on economic revival.