Australia Broadcasting Service | 30 July 2007
Japanese elections raise doubts over free trade
By North Asia correspondent Shane McLeod
The Japanese Liberal Democratic Party has suffered huge election losses in rural areas, where the proposed free trade deal with Australia is highly unpopular.
The Japanese Liberal Democratic Party has suffered huge election losses in rural areas, where the proposed free trade deal with Australia is highly unpopular. (Reuters: Miho Yoshikawa)
Australia’s free trade agreement with Japan could be on the rocks after Japan’s Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) lost control of the Upper House of Parliament.
Overnight, Japanese voters dealt Prime Minister Shinzo Abe a humiliating blow, reducing his party to a tiny minority in the Upper House.
The LDP has suffered huge losses in rural regions of Japan, where the proposed free trade deal with Australia is highly unpopular.
In just 10 months, Mr Abe has gone from being one of Japan’s most popular prime ministers to one of its biggest losers.
"I’m determined to shoulder my very heavy responsibility," he said. "I’m facing an uphill struggle."
The public mood appears to have turned on a series of ministerial scandals and mismanagement at the national public pension scheme.
However Mr Abe is vowing to fight on, although he now has to try to push his policies through an Opposition-controlled Upper House.
"Although I must accept the result of the elections, I have a mandate to continue the reforms in order to fulfil a pledge I made to the Japanese people," Mr Abe said.
Mr Abe has been an enthusiastic supporter of the proposed free trade agreement with Australia, despite opposition from his party’s traditional supporters in the agriculture sector.
In yesterday’s election, many of the Opposition’s gains were in single-seat constituencies in rural and regional Japan, where angry LDP voters took the unthinkable step of voting for the Opposition.
Mr Abe says he is hearing the voice of the people, but his push for economic reforms have only just begun.
The Australian trade negotiators, who are due in Tokyo next month for the next round of free trade talks, will be hoping Mr Abe is still around to pursue the deal.