PM Noda plays Japan towards election

November 16, 2012 - 12:00:00 am

TOKYO: Poker-faced Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda resisted months of pressure before calling an election, but analysts say his weak hand will easily be beaten and polls will leave drifting Japan with a fragile coalition.

The 55-year-old prime minister has played his cards close to his chest since the summer, when he swapped a vague promise to call elections “soon” for support from his opponents on a bill to raise the sales tax.

Seemingly against the odds, Noda, a self-effacing man who once admitted “looks are not my selling point”, extracted further concessions in the form of a pledge on electoral reform and a much-needed deficit financing bill.

In return for co-operation, Noda told his stunned opponents, he would dissolve the house.

“It was the best possible card Prime Minister Noda could play,” said Shinichi Nishikawa, professor of politics at Meiji University in Tokyo.

“He has taken the initiative by setting up a drama with a surprise,” Nishikawa said. 

Nonetheless, by most reckonings, his suit is hopeless.

“Whichever way you look at it, it was a fairly desperate decision that staked everything he has,” Nishikawa said.

Most commentators agree Noda will not be prime minister when the dust settles after the election on December 16.

Voters are almost certain to cast him and his disintegrating Democratic Party of Japan out of office, making Noda the sixth consecutive man to have served as premier for around a year.

Opinion polls show the establishment Liberal Democratic Party, led by former prime minister Shinzo Abe, is likely to win more seats than other parties but not enough to govern alone.

Observers say a rash of recently-sprouted, and often single-issue, smaller parties are likely to find themselves romanced during a period of coalition-building.

Unlikely alliances could be formed involving characters like the waspish former governor of Tokyo, Shintaro Ishihara, or the upstart young mayor of Osaka, Toru Hashimoto.

Hashimoto has said he personally will not be standing for parliament but his Japan Restoration Party is hoping to field hundreds of candidates.

Ishihara’s gerontocratic Party of the Sun (whose politicians have an average age of 73.5) will be doing its best to get into the political mix.

“Japan’s politics will remain fragile as the election may not lead to a change in the divided Diet (parliament) for now,” said Naoto Nonaka, politics professor at Tokyo’s Gakushuin University.