Japan and Germany are often compared. With Abe’s decision to hold a snap election next month, Japan will follow its European counterpart within one month and make an important decision about its political future via a federal election.

But the background could not be more different. Merkel could only lose in the federal election last Sunday – and so she did. She will still likely be the next chancellor but with a very weakened basis and a much more complicated coalition set-up.

Abe is currently enjoying a super-majority of more than two thirds incl. coalition partner Komeito. He could have gone on enjoying this majority for another one and a half years.

But he smelled the chance to consolidate his power by calling this snap election based on two factors: improved approval rates (the North Korea crisis has certainly helped here) and a still weak coalition. (For a good summary of Abe’s thinking and the calculated risk in calling an election now, see Wall Street Journal.)

With the election 3 weeks away and rattling news emerging about the newly opposition force around Koike’s new Party of Hope, any predictions are hard but I will dare to make two:

  • The LDP and its coalition partner will lose its joint super-majority and suffer strongly in the election but manage to keep a slim simple majority.
  • The popular Koike will emerge as the strong face of a newly emerging opposition with other parties such as the DP de facto merging with her new grouping.

This will lead to a face-to-face battle between Abe and Koike over the next 12 months, the outcome of which is still utterly unclear. Core question after Oct. 22 will be whether and how Koike will hang on to her position as Tokyo Major. If she resigns, she will disappoint many Tokyoites. If she continues as Mayor, she will struggle keeping together the new opposition force against Abe.

I personally have high hopes into Koike as a future leader for Japan but I doubt that the timing now is right for her. But let us see.

She is one of the smartest politicians around and currently enjoys high popularity with the Japanese people, which is getting tired of Abe and Abenomics. Like Abe she is taking a gamble now and might prevail.

In any case, Abe has found his first real opponent. It is neither Kishida or Ishiba from within the LDP, it is Yuriko Koike – no doubt.

We are up for a very interesting election and even more interesting months to follow.

Jochen Legewie

Jochen Legewie

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