Abe win signals end of Japan's pacifism

Abe win signals end of Japan's pacifism

Japan’s Shinzo Abe has won a landslide victory in the just-concluded elections to the lower house of the Japanese parliament to become prime minister for a third term. The ruling coalition won 313 seats; 284 for Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party and 29 for its junior partner, Komeito. A month ago, when Abe dissolved parliament and called for early elections, it was described as a risky move, especially since his opinion ratings were plummeting, thanks to corruption scandals. The gamble paid off and the LDP has returned to power, and with more than a two-thirds majority again. Now, amending Japan’s pacifist constitution is likely to top Abe’s agenda. Japan’s present constitution forbids the country from maintaining a full-fledged military force or waging war. Amending Article 9 to confirm the legitimacy of Japan’s Self-Defence Forces will change that. Amending the constitution requires two-thirds support in parliament, which the Abe government has. He had such support during his second term, too, but could not pursue the matter assiduously as he was preoccupied with other problems his nation faces.

This time, Abe can be expected to pursue the matter to its logical end. But he will need to do more than effect a constitutional amendment. He has to change the mindset of the Japanese people from post-World War II pacifism. One of the world’s largest economies cannot afford to deny itself a more normal military posture and capability in a region riven with historical rivalries, authoritarian regimes, struggles for resources, and the dynamic of rising and declining powers. The North Korean crisis will come in handy to mobilise public support for a constitutional amendment. Japan, like the rest of East Asia, is uneasy with the mounting US-North Korea bellicosity. An increasingly aggressive China is of concern, too. Public insecurity in Japan is therefore high and Abe is likely to find it relatively easy to convince the Japanese people that Japan now needs a strong military to defend the country, even be ready to go to war. Muscular rhetoric can be expected. Of course, at a time when East Asia is already on edge, such tough talk is sure to alarm China and the Koreas, which bore the brunt of Japan’s militarism in the past. Therefore, Abe will need to carefully calibrate the change he seeks to effect.

Abe’s return to power is good news for India. India-Japan relations have improved remarkably over the years. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has a strong equation with Abe and the latter’s return to power will give continuity to the bilateral relations. Important economic and strategic deals struck during Abe’s second term should hopefully reach fruition in his third term.

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