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Japan's Snap Elections Overshadow a Faltering Economy

JAPAN ELECTION

Election campaigners in Japan (Kanako Otsuji and a campaign car for Councillors election, 2007) Image from Flickr user m-louis CC BY-SA 2.0

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has dissolved the Lower House of Japan's parliament and called a snap election for mid-December.

The snap election comes after Japan's economy officially slid into recession on Monday, November 17.

This may be the last chance to save Japan from national decline, says Michael Auslin [Opinion, English article here] “If Abe defeated in upcoming parliamentary elections, all hope for reform lost.” (Wall Street Journal).

It has been two years since the last Japanese election returned Abe and Japan's Liberal Democratic Party to the government. Under his current mandate, Abe still had more than another two years, until 2017, to call the next election.

Abe says his decision to call a snap election is about seeking a mandate to delay a planned sales tax increase, which now would further slow the economy.

A preliminary sales tax increase this past spring is already considered the chief culprit for Japan's current economic contraction.

Another possible motivation for calling a snap election is the current disarray of Japan's opposition parties, making them weak opponents in the immediate future.

While some commentators are calling Abe's move “self-serving”, others think Abe is facing political oblivion anyway and that the snap election may be the spark that reignites Japan's moribund opposition.

In Japan, there are some complaints that election coverage so far ignores the big picture:

Wha? Why is there no mention of Japan's recession in the media?

Many prominent Twitter commentators are wondering if the election has swept under the rug the main story: Japan's faltering economy.

In the Japanese media, the economy is “just ticking along”, but elsewhere in the world the story is “Japan is now in recession.” This gap in perception is slaughtering individual investors. #fx #nhk #nisa #nikkei #nhk #stocks

I'm more astonished that the media itself seems surprised that this recession somehow came out of the blue.

Seeking a mandate to delay raising the consumption tax is just a pretext. With the Cabinet approval rating is still high, and Opposition parties still in disarray, Abe is holding an election he is certain to win. He'll then use the mandate to say that it's the public that wants to hold off on raising the consumption tax, rather than admitting that Abenomics is a failure.

Other voices recognize what appears to be Abe's pure pragmatism:

With just over two years left in his current mandate, Abe probably realizes he doesn't have enough time to do all the things he wants to do. So, dissolve the Diet and extend the life of his government.

Ah, I get it! Abe is bound to win the upcoming election, which gives his government another four more years of political stability.

Japan's recession and snap election are competing in the news with another major story: Japan is experiencing a butter shortage.