On paper, it looks like Japan’s October 22 general election was more of the same. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and its coalition partner, Komeito, went into the election with a supermajority in the House of Representatives, and emerged with that supermajority intact for a second straight election. Voters, facing a choice between a prime minister most do not trust and opposition parties they do not support, stayed home in near-record numbers, with turnout rising only one percentage point higher than the record low of 52.66 percent set in 2014. For Abe, it was a victory by default, the latest evidence that Japanese democracy remains hobbled by a lack of actual democratic choice.
But though the election cemented the ruling coalition’s dominance for the foreseeable future, extending a run of virtual one-party rule that has been broken only twice in the postwar era, it could also prove to be a turning point for Japan. Abe’s decision to call an early election inadvertently revealed that there is a genuine desire for a party that is unapologetically liberal and willing to part with the LDP consensus on a host of issues, most notably its desire to revise Japan’s pacifist constitution.