Campaigning for the Oct. 22 Lower House election kicked off on Oct. 10 in a state of chaos unprecedented in recent years.

It all started with the abrupt dissolution of the Lower House by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, on the first day of an extraordinary session of the Diet.

The dissolution was perfectly timed to take advantage of the opposition camp's disarray and unpreparedness for a snap election. It also effectively saved Abe from being grilled further on the Moritomo Gakuen and Kake Educational Institution scandals. The dissolution was in total disregard of the repeated opposition demand for the convocation of an extraordinary session of the Diet according to Article 53 of the Constitution. In short, Abe's personal convenience trumped everything.

However, the dissolution unexpectedly triggered a major realignment of opposition forces. The Democratic Party imploded, and Kibo no To (Hope), led by Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike, was born.


The exact power structure in this election campaign is rendered difficult to see because of Koike's unclear stance.

While rejecting "Abe's strongman politics," she says she will have to see "the outcome of the election" to decide whom to nominate as prime minister after the election. As for constitutional revision--including Article 9--as well as national security, her stance is effectively no different from the Abe administration.

The tri-polar power structure of the Liberal Democratic Party/Komeito, Kibo no To (Hope)/Nippon Ishin (Japan Innovation Party) and the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan/Japanese Communist Party/Social Democratic Party, which seemed to have solidified at one time, is no longer solid.

Actually, what is now emerging is a structure of confrontation between two policy blocs--one consisting of the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, the Japanese Communist Party and others, all of which are dead set against the security-related laws and determined to stop the prime minister's attempts to revise the Constitution, and the other bloc that is made up of the LDP, Hope and others.

In size, Hope has grown into the second largest party after the LDP. But as long as no one can really tell whether Hope belongs in the opposition camp or the ruling camp, it cannot possibly become a clear alternative to any other party. Many voters must be feeling confused and unsure what to do.

Precisely for this reason, we must reassess the situation.

The biggest issue of the upcoming Lower House election is whether to approve or disapprove "Abe's strongman politics" of the past five years, and whether or not the same should continue for another four years.

And what has the Abe administration revealed to us over the last five years?

Its style of politics was to contest elections on the economy, and then hold fast to Abe's pet policies after the elections.

Winning big against the backdrop of the stable economy and job market, the Abe administration took full advantage of its overwhelming majority in the Diet to pass a series of highly divisive legislation, including the state secrets protection law, the new national security law and the anti-conspiracy law.


During the regular session of the Diet earlier this year, the Abe administration fully revealed its true colors, which is to take advantage of its overwhelming majority with impunity.

For example, when grilled in the Diet on a government document stating "the prime minister's intent" in the Kake scandal and on records of negotiations between the Finance Ministry and Moritomo Gakuen, everyone on "team Abe" got away with repeating they "could not remember" or "there were no records they were aware of." And anyone who testified against the administration were subjected to ruthless ad hominem attacks.

Toward the end of the regular session of the Diet, the administration resorted to simply terminating committee deliberations on the controversial anti-conspiracy legislation and railroaded it through the Diet. That was the ultimate example of this all-powerful administration just doing whatever it pleased.

We could say that the principle of separation of the three powers of government is in crisis under the Abe administration, what with its total contempt of the legislature that rendered the latter incapable of fulfilling its function of keeping the prime minister in check and correcting him if needed.

This is the state of Japanese politics under Abe, but many voters may still be unsure how to vote.

"My vote won't change politics. I'm sick and tired of all these political parties merging and disbanding. I don't see any point in going to the polling station, so I'm sitting out this election."

Anyone who thinks like this is effectively endorsing the situation and handing a carte blanche to the Abe administration.

Let us recall a scene from the final days of the Tokyo metropolitan assembly election campaign in July.

Abe was on the stump in Tokyo's Akihabara district when a raucous chorus of "resign" erupted from the gathered crowd. A visibly annoyed Abe yelled back to the effect, "We cannot lose (the election) to this riffraff." But the LDP suffered a historic rout.

After the election, Abe said, "I will live up to the people's mandate with humility and sincerity."

But his humility evaporated quickly enough, and as soon as the Cabinet approval rating registered an uptick after a reshuffle, Abe went right ahead with dissolving the Lower House even before the extraordinary session could begin deliberations.

Still, there was no mistake that the people's will, manifested in the Tokyo metropolitan assembly election, helped shake off political apathy to a certain extent.


How much popular support does "Abe's strongman politics" have?

Since returning to power in the 2012 Lower House election, Abe has won four national elections in a row.

Voter turnout in national elections has remained low in recent years. The rate in the last Lower House election in 2014 hit a post-World War II low of 52.6 percent, and the LDP won only 48.1 percent of votes nationwide in single-seat electorates. This means that only one in four voters cast their ballots for the LDP.

The total number of ballots won by the LDP in Lower House single-seat constituencies peaked in the so-called postal reform election of 2005, and the number has continued to decline since. And it is the apathy of voters that continues to keep the current "one all-powerful administration" in power.

It is true that one vote is just that. But the will of the people is the sum total of each vote cast, and therein lies the possibility of political change.

Politicians are thoroughly aware of the weight of each vote. That is why they are ever sensitive to public opinion.

Japan is currently at a crossroads. What do we do about our rapidly aging society with a low birth rate? How do we relate with the United States and our neighbor nations? And do we continue on with nuclear power generation or not?

We must listen carefully to what each party says and also try to form our judgment on what the parties don't say.

Some voters will probably still say that there is no viable option in the upcoming election. But only each vote has the power to revive politics. And to make that possible is not only our responsibility as voters, but we also owe it to our children and future posterity.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Oct. 11