The elections for the Upper House of the Japanese Diet on 29 July saw Prime Minister Abe's Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) soundly defeated by the opposition party the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ). Suffering from a series of scandals over the year, Abe has lost more than the Upper House to the DPJ. He may also have lost the ability to govern. Although Abe has declared his intention to stay on, albeit with a new cabinet, shuffled in late August, events may have slipped from his control. On August 7, it is likely that DPJ leader Ichiro Ozawa, a shrewd political operator and former LDP member, will secure control of the Speaker for the Upper House, thereby gaining control of the House, and control the ability to propose and veto legislation.
This November, special legislation enabling Japanese Maritime Self Defence Forces to provide logistical support to US ships in the Indian Ocean will come up for renewal, and Ozawa has already made statements about not renewing it. Abe faces a crucial battle ahead. Although the electorate is mostly indifferent to the issue, the LDP sees it as a major commitment to its US ally, and will risk another (Lower House) election to defend it, which could end up losing it the lower house. US Ambassador Thomas Schieffer has already asked Ozawa for a meeting to ask him not to risk this important legislation for temporary political advantage. Although Ozawa believes in minimalizing Japanese military commitments abroad, he also recognizes the long-term value of the US as a regional partner. The main point of the attack is its use against the LDP.
Though much of this is still speculative, what is certain, is that Japanese politics will be very interesting for the next few months, and that recent progress within the Japan-US security arrangement will come to a stand still.
John Hemmings is a Research Associate with the Asian Programme in the International Security Studies Department at RUSI. He lived in Japan for six years, and is currently writing on the Japanese-US Security Alliance.