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This Week in Japan (09.23.17)

SNA (Tokyo) — This Week in Japan is your source for news and information about politics and other happenings in this East Asian island country. This episode covers the Top Five stories of the third week of September 2017.

One. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe signaled to the ruling coalition that he would call for a snap election immediately after convening an extraordinary session of the Diet on September 28. The election itself would be held in late October. Abe’s motives were transparently self-serving, trying to take advantage of the recent spike in his popularity caused by the North Korea nuclear missile crisis, avoiding more Diet discussion of the Kake Gakuen Scandal, and pouncing while the opposition parties were in deep disarray. Abe’s political future was very much at stake in this gambit.

Two. Article 53 of the Japanese Constitution reads, “The Cabinet may determine to convoke extraordinary sessions of the Diet. When a quarter or more of the total members of either House makes the demand, the Cabinet must determine on such convocation.” Prime Minister Abe arguably made a mockery of the Constitution by ignoring opposition parties’ official call to convoke a Diet session more than three months earlier, with the apparent intention of dissolving that session on its first day. While the Constitution does not specify a deadline within which the Cabinet must convoke the Diet once the call is delivered by a quarter of the bodies’ lawmakers, the Abe government’s interpretation rendered the second sentence of the article effectively meaningless.

Three. Seiji Maehara was elected leader of the Democratic Party largely by those conservatives who wanted him to end the party’s electoral alliance with the Japan Communist Party. However, the almost immediate prospect of a general election meant that without Communist cooperation they were facing the near certain prospect of a massive defeat. All along, the Democratic Party conservatives’ distaste for the Communist Party was not matched by any viable alternative strategy, likely meaning that they would be forced to agree to at least some limited coordination of candidates with the tactical ally they had wanted to abandon.

Four. The prospect of an early general election also forced Masaru Wakasa to move much more quickly than he would have preferred to set up the pro-Koike national political party. It was reported at the end of the week that he had settled on the “Hope Party” as the name of the new organization, borrowing the name from the Tokyo political school that Governor Koike had earlier set up. It was said that the Hope Party would quickly be formed with about ten incumbent lawmakers—mostly defectors from the Democratic Party—and would aim to run more than sixty candidates in the general election.

Five. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe may not have had any solutions to North Korea’s serial missile and nuclear weapons tests, but he definitely knew what he wouldn’t abide—any talks or negotiations with Pyongyang. Abe strongly promoted a hard line internationally calling for economic and political pressure to be applied to North Korea. Representatives of the Abe government began to repeat a mantra: “Now is not the time for talks.”

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