International headlines have trumpeted Prime Minister Abe Shinzo's decisive win in Japan's upper house election July 21. But the election results indicate the potential defeat of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party's economic and constitutional agenda. Called "Abenomics" by the Japanese Communist Party, Abe's plan seeks to make Japan "the most business friendly country in the world" by repealing worker protections and corporate regulations, while reducing corporate taxes and increasing taxes for the general public. In addition, Abe plans to "prime the pump" with nuclear power and a renewed push to build up Japan's military forces. While the agenda still holds majority support, the ground is shifting and public opposition is gaining momentum.
The Japanese Communist Party, by gaining five more seats in the upper house in the July 21 vote, is positioned to become the head of the opposition to Abe. The number one opposition party, Democratic Party of Japan, lost 27 seats, continuing its downward slide in the polls.
Media outlets remarked on the JCP's "impressive gains." The party now holds 11 seats in the Upper House, nearly doubling its presence from the pre-election six. It won Upper House seats in three areas it hasn't held in more than a decade: Tokyo, Osaka and Kyoto. In June, the JCP won 17 seats in the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly, catapulting the party to the number three position. The JCP's newspaper Akahata editorialized, "More and more people have expressed their anxieties and complaints regarding the anti-people policies carried out at both national and local levels" by Abe and the LDP Tokyo governor. The editorial cited an opinion poll released just after the June election that showed a 7 point jump in opposition to the "Abenomics" policy since the May survey. While the survey showed 55 percent of respondents supporting Abe's economic policy, the editorial said, it would be difficult for the LDP to maintain its high approval rates.
Abe's prescription for Japan's economy comes out of the neoliberal, free trade handbook: undo corporate regulations to make it easier to fire workers, join the Trans-Pacific Partnership free-trade agreement and restart nuclear reactors idled after the Fukushima nuclear disaster. Abenomics stimulus includes exporting nuclear technology, along with increased military spending.
The package carries political risk. Japan's Communists argue it will be increasingly difficult for Abe and the LDP to hold onto their popularity as full-time workers lose their jobs to temporary workers hired at lower wages, and free trade decimates Japanese farmers and smaller businesses.
Abe's proposed constitutional changes are poised to reopen devastating wounds of World War II, especially the nuclear fallout from U.S. atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and Japan's permanent renunciation of war," enshrined in its post-war Constitution.
Abe is seeking to change a technical provision of the Constitution, Article 96, which would make it easier for him to amend Article 9. Article 9 says the "Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes." This provision has helped shape Japan's post-war identity.
In an interview with constitutional scholar Watanabe Osamu, Akahata writes, "The true aim" of Abe "continues to be the revision of the war-renouncing Article 9 of the Constitution." Due to Article 9's popularity, "the first Abe Cabinet faced mounting public criticism and could not accomplish its aim to revise Article 9." That is why Abe now seeks to first weaken the requirements for rewriting the Supreme Law, the article states.
"Contrary to the prime minister's expectations of easy victory, however, the proposal to revise Article 96 has aroused severe public criticism. It is urgent to strengthen public opposition and create a national consensus in order to block the revision of both Article 9 and Article 96."
Part of the JCP's attraction to voters, especially younger voters, is its social media and online campaigning, but the other is presenting a pro-people agenda. JCP leader Kazuo Shii said the Communists aren't just saying "no" to anything proposed by the LDP. "In any issue that has come up, we've always presented alternatives," he said in a pre-election interview.
Photo: A girl places her father's vote into a ballot box at a polling station in Tokyo, July 21. (AP/Itsuo Inouye)