Tag Archives: election

Dutch PM Rutte likely to form new four-party coalition, with policy possibly taking lean towards left – Netherlands Analysis

Executive Summary

  • The center-right VVD led by Prime Minister Mark Rutte emerged as the largest party in the March 2021 Dutch national elections, followed by center-progressive-liberal D66, right-wing populist PVV, and centrist CDA.
  • Due to the significant fragmentation of both the right- and left-wing, even by Dutch standards, various coalition formations are possible.
  • Nonetheless, the results indicate that VVD and D66 will likely form the core of the next governing coalition, with one or multiple smaller parties.
  • D66’s gains could lead to a slight policy shift to the left within a continuation of a center-right government or lead to the inclusion of left-wing parties in a coalition.
  • Travel to the Netherlands may continue while remaining cognizant of COVID-19 regulations and maintaining vigilance for related unrest.

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Current Situation

  • In the March 2021 Dutch national elections, Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s center-right Volkspartij voor Vrijheid en Democratie (VVD) retained its place as the largest party with 34 seats in the 150-seat House of Representatives, gaining one. The centrist-progressive-liberal Democraten 66 (D66) came in second with 24 seats; right-wing populist Partij voor de Vrijheid (PVV) came third with 17 seats and centrist Christen-Democratische Appel (CDA) was fourth with 15 seats.
  • With a five-seat increase, the socially-liberal and pro-EU D66 overtook its coalition ally CDA.
  • New parties entering parliament include right-wing populist Juiste Antwoord 2021 (JA21), social-liberal Volt Nederland (Volt), agrarian BoerBurgerBeweging (BBB), and anti-racist and anti-capitalist Bij1.
  • Specific issues, such as the climate crisis and post-COVID socioeconomic recovery, remained unheeded in the campaign, being dominated by the theme of “trusted leadership” concerning the handling of COVID-19 instead.

 

Background

  • Under the Dutch system, parliament is elected by proportional representation. Fourteen parties sat in the former parliament. A record 37 contested in the 2021 election, with 17 gaining seats.
  • On January 15, 2021, Prime Minister Rutte’s government resigned amid a subsidies scandal. The resignation followed a failed attempt by Rutte to win the backing of coalition allies, signaling the start of political hostilities before the election.
  • Rutte remains as caretaker PM until a new government is formed post-election.
  • Between January 23-25, police reportedly detained over 500 demonstrators nationwide as mass anti-COVID-19-related protests against a nightly curfew turned violent. Rioters conducted widespread vandalism. Journalists and camera crews were also targeted. Over a dozen officers were injured while utilizing forceful dispersal measures. Rutte denounced the events as “criminal violence.”
  • Over 16,000 people are confirmed to have died of COVID-19 in the Netherlands, with over 1.2 million cases. Less than four percent of the population have received both doses of a COVID-19 vaccine as of writing.

Assessments & Forecast

COVID-19 pandemic was the main influence on the election results, despite recent benefits scandal

  1. Despite the recent benefits scandal, the handling of the COVID-19 pandemic was the largest influencer of the election results, with the limiting of the electoral campaign to social media, advertising, and televised debates due to the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions likely also being a factor.
  2. The increase of the number of parties to 17 highlights further fragmentation and the reduction of mainstream parties’ dominance. That said, VVD’s success despite the subsidies scandal is likely owing to Rutte’s “herd immunity policy,” appearing as the leading “statesman” to deal with the crisis, emphasizing another required term to get the country through the pandemic. Additionally, VVD’s one-seat gain is likely mainly due to first-time voters and a shift in votes away from CDA and the 50PLUS (50+) party.
  3. D66 emerged as the primary beneficiary of the elections. Its gains are likely attributable to posing itself as the left-leaning party with the most chance of being able to have a significant impact on a potential government coalition. Additionally, its progressive stances offered an alternative to Dutch far-right populism for those looking for another option to Rutte. Further, it likely won GroenLinks (GL) votes by holding similar positions on issues such as climate and immigration policies.
  4. This position as an “acceptable alternative” option to Rutte for centrists is likely to have also played a part in diminishing the CDA’s votes, with Rutte and the more right-wing parties also eating into the party’s votes from both wings.
  5. That Partij van de Arbeid (PvdA) finished unchanged and left-leaning parties Socialistische Partij (SP) and GL, lost almost half their seats, indicates a further decline of the Dutch center-left and progressive wing, jointly amassing only 33 seats. Meanwhile, the SP’s regression is likely influenced by its right-wing basis campaigning and its recorded membership slump.
  6. On the other side of the political spectrum, the election generated a radical reorganization of the populist right-wing, which achieved its best-combined result with an overall total of 28 seats but became more fragmented in the process, with PVV losing seats to JA21 and Forum voor Democratie (FVD). This is liable to be partially due to the alleged ineffectiveness of PVV leader Geert Wilders from various sections of the right-wing, with others claiming he has tried to pursue non-far-right positions to gain votes. The right-wing likely gained ground by capitalizing on riots and protests organized against COVID-19 measures, seizing on the growing anger towards the regulations and resulting economic hardships.

 

Although coalition building will be challenged by a shift in power of current partners, a VVD-led four-party government remains the most likely outcome

  1. The Dutch coalition-making process typically takes months, although, in 2017, it took a record 225 days. Despite Rutte’s calls for swift negotiations amid the COVID-19 crisis and weakened economy, D66 leader Sigrid Kaag reiterated her desire to include more left-wing parties to form a more progressive coalition that could prolong the process.
  2. Nonetheless, the most likely coalition includes a continuation of the former four-party coalition between the VVD, CDA, D66, and the ChristenUnie (CU), and primarily agreeing on principal policy issues. However, a significant bone of contention could be around social issues, such as abortion and euthanasia, given the differences between D66 and the CU. Further, the existing disparity on immigration, asylum, climate, and extensive agricultural and nitrogen policies may prove obstacles to reforming this grouping.
  3. Judging by these contentions, VVD, CDA, and D66 may seek an alternative partner to CU, likely to include one of the parties on the left, namely PvdA, SP, GL, Partij voor de Dieren (PvdD), Volt, Staatkundig Gereformeerde Partij (SGP), or DENK. Rutte’s proven willingness to be flexible makes such a coalition possible, as long as the smaller partner’s demands for joining are not deemed to be too radically to the left. Additionally, D66 has stated that it is reluctant to work with either GL or PvdA, due to irreconcilable differences, further limiting the options for partners on the left.
  4. As such, given that no parties have ruled out cooperating with right-wing populist JA21, and the party holds eight seats in the Senate, providing a government majority in both chambers, Rutte could consider inviting them to discussions. However, this would likely be met with resistance from D66 due to disagreements on climate change, EU integration, and immigration policies.
  5. While Volt would likely be D66’s preferred choice for a fourth coalition partner amid its pro-EU stance, Rutte is unlikely to support this due to VVD’s reluctance to further European integration, support of a stricter asylum policy, and investment in defense instead of healthcare.
  6. Despite his apparent support, multiple extensive parliamentary inquiries are likely to weigh on Rutte in the coming years and potentially cause political instability amid accountability debates. These include the child benefit scandal, damage to houses amid earthquakes from natural gas extraction, and the government’s unpreparedness for the health crisis. As such, even if the VVD is able to reach a coalition agreement, the stability of any government is liable to be tested, with a possible Rutte departure likely to lead to a swift collapse.
  7. If a four-party coalition of VVD, D66, CDA, and a smaller partner fails, then a center-left coalition with VDD’s support becomes a possibility, a development the D66 as a center-progressive party likely prefers, potentially trying to secure the PM role as the largest party. However, the significant differences between the party and the various left-wing parties will make discussions difficult, if irreconcilable. Furthermore, that left-wing parties GL, PvdA, and SP went from a combined 37 seats to 26 would mean a left-wing coalition would require seven parties, which is highly unlikely to reach an agreement.
  8. A coalition including the PVV and FVD is implausible, as most mainstream parties have ruled out working with these parties amid their relatively extreme right-wing and racist, xenophobic, and conspiratorial rhetoric and anti-Islam policies. This rules out a right-wing alliance between VVD, CDA, and PVV, which had a coalition agreement between 2010 and 2012.

 

Despite a possible new fourth party in most likely coalition option, if Rutte remains PM, policy changes are likely to be limited

  1. If Rutte remains Prime Minister, as is most likely at this point, the various four-party coalition outcomes would likely see policies remain largely in line with the previous government, with less focus on fiscal consolidation, given the severe COVID-19-generated impact on the economy. However, D66’s gains could lead to a slight policy shift to the left, including an increased focus on combating climate change, equality of opportunity, and European cooperation. Nonetheless, fiscal responsibility would remain a key pillar of government policy. As none of these parties advocated a rapid reduction of the public deficit, unlike in the aftermath of the 2007-2008 global financial crisis, long-term debt sustainability rather than short-term consolidation is likely. Further, as both VVD and D66 agreed-upon pension policy change, the next government will likely introduce related legislation.
  2. The Netherlands’ place within the EU would likely be raised in such a coalition, with Rutte having led a number of countries opposing a more abundant COVID-19 financial recovery package, while D66 has called for greater cooperation within the bloc. Considering German Chancellor Angela Merkel stepping down in September, the UK’s exit in January, and the mixed response to French President Emmanuel Macron’s attempts to steer the EU, regional leaders are liable to look to Rutte as the ‘senior statesman’ within the bloc, having been in power for over 10 years. As such, should the D66 be able to sway Rutte towards a more cooperative view, the impact on the wider EU could be significant.
  3. Although appearing to be unlikely at this stage, a center-left, non-VVD led coalition, would entail a shift to the center-left on some policies, including climate change and socioeconomic issues. While the competing parties were divided on various issues, sustainable development and climate policies were part of all platforms, albeit at varying levels. As such, any COVID-19 response plan would likely have some leaning towards these considerations.

 

Both right- and left-wing parties likely to seek to attract voters from more centrist parties, as possible coalition will force governing partners to compromise

  1. The right-wing-to-far-right parties are likely to continue to build their electoral prospects in opposition, attempting to attract potential disaffected VVD voters, especially if the government does swing more to the left. Such considerations may influence Rutte to withstand drifting too far to the left, potentially increasing instability in a coalition that could contain progressive or left-wing parties.
  2. If the GL, PvdA, and SP fail to join the new coalition, they could potentially form a left-wing pact in the opposition as a counterweight to a center-right ruling block and a prominent right-wing opposition. As long as socio-cultural issues continue to dominate Dutch politics, left parties, including Volt, PvdD, DENK, and BIJ1, will likely continue to face competition from non-socialism-based parties near-term and remain a marginal force in an ever rightward-shifting political landscape. As with VVD, however, should D66 be deemed to be straying too far to the right or “giving in” to too many right-wing demands, they may similarly lose support to the left.
  3. In the short term, protests against the ongoing regulations are likely, with both right- and left-wing groups participating and political parties taking part in order to solidify support. As such, a repeat of the earlier violence is possible. Additionally, should radical parties continue to support, either overtly or tacitly, various conspiracy theories linked to the vaccine, the risk of further attacks on related sites and personnel can be expected.

Recommendations

  1. Travel to the Netherlands may continue as per government directives concerning the ongoing COVID-19 restrictions.
  2. Those operating or residing in the Netherlands are advised to remain cognizant of the ongoing political developments and the latent risk of civil unrest in the coming months.
  3. For more information on the security situation, please contact [email protected].

Israel’s March 23rd election results likely to prolong political stagnation; may pose challenges to strategic business operations – Israel Analysis

Executive Summary:

  • On March 23, Israel held its fourth round of parliamentary elections in the past two years, which produced another stalemate. Rather than the left and right, the political fault lines in Israel are currently divided along the pro-Prime Minister (PM) Benjamin Netanyahu bloc and the anti-Netanyahu bloc. At present, neither has been able to form a viable coalition.
  • Even if either bloc succeeds in forming a coalition through complex political maneuvering, any potential government’s longevity will likely be limited in time. Therefore, the years-long period of political deadlock in Israel is likely to persist due to the lack of a conclusive outcome.
  • The political stagnation will hinder the implementation of a long-term budget and comprehensive government planning, which will disrupt proper governance, cause some economic damage, limit the ability for strategic long-term security planning, and hamper Israel’s foreign relations with key allies.
  • This is liable to pose challenges for long-term strategic business operations in Israel, especially those requiring high-level government collaboration. However, regardless of the political situation, essential services and infrastructure remain operational and the country is largely functioning as normal. The highly successful COVID-19 vaccine campaign has significantly reduced restrictions on business and commercial activities, with domestic and foreign companies and organizations able to operate without major hindrance.
  • Those operating or residing in Israel are advised to remain abreast of the ongoing political situation, which is liable to result in some challenges to long-term business operations requiring state collaboration. Consult with us at [email protected] or +44-20-3540-0434 for more information.

Result of Israel's general elections (seats)


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Implications of the political deadlock

As well as leading to an unprecedented situation in which four elections have been held in the past two years, the political stalemate has had, and will continue to have, an impact on the functioning and governance of Israel in various fields. These range from budgetary and economic issues to foreign relations and long-term security doctrines. Below are the primary areas in which the political deadlock is liable to impact until a conclusive outcome is reached and a stable government is formed.

Economy, budget, and domestic governance

  1. The political situation in Israel has had an impact on the country’s economic functioning and ability to strategically plan ahead. As a result of the political stalemate, the Knesset has not passed an annual budget or comprehensive spending plans since March 2018, which has hindered the capacity of ministries and other government-funded organizations to operate effectively. This concern has been shared by Israel’s economic leadership, as evidenced by comments on April 9 by Bank of Israel Governor, Amir Yaron, who reiterated that “without a stable government that operates long-term” Israel will not be able to implement a multi-year economic plan to effectively emerge from the COVID-19 health and economic crises. This view highlights the importance of both the formation of a stable and cohesive government as well as its longevity for proper governance and economic growth. This is particularly in light of the pandemic, which had a severe impact on the Israeli workforce, with unemployment reaching a high of 27 percent early on in the health crisis and falling to 9.8 percent by March amid the opening up of the economy. Prior to the pandemic, unemployment had reached a record low of 3.8 percent.
  2. FORECAST: Payments to furloughed workers in Israel are set to expire at the end of June. Many furloughed workers have preferred to continue receiving state payments instead of returning to the workforce and will thus likely be compelled to return to part-time unemployment when these payments end in June. That said, parts of the population will likely remain indefinitely unemployed. This will require government-funded training programs and investment, potentially in cooperation with the private sector, to assist these individuals to reenter the workforce. This is especially because several sectors, particularly those depending on tourism, continue to operate at lower than pre-pandemic capacity and there are therefore fewer jobs in these fields. In the absence of a stable government able to strategically implement such initiatives, hundreds of thousands of people are liable to be in a precarious final situation, which will place strain on the government and the wider economy as their consumption will be reduced.
  3. The political situation has partly impaired Israel’s ability to respond to pressing needs in a timely manner. This is most saliently evidenced by a reported delay in Israeli payments to vaccine production companies as the Israeli cabinet has not convened to pass this budget due to political infighting in the current Likud-Blue & White caretaker coalition. This is due to the cancellation of a cabinet meeting by Defense Minister Gantz as a result of Netanyahu’s alleged refusal to permit the appointment of a Justice Minister, which also hinders the Knesset’s ability to pass key legislation. The void in the Justice Ministry is one of multiple senior roles, including in the security and defense sectors, that have not been filled due to government infighting. The fact that this led to Gantz’s cancellation of the cabinet meeting underscores the potential for multiple other issues of an important and strategic nature to be hindered or delayed due to political stagnation. The ministers were slated to vote on a 2.1 billion USD procurement of new vaccine doses, which is essential for Israel to sustainably combat the COVID-19 pandemic over the long-term and keep the economy open and thus provide crucial income for individuals and revenue for the state. FORECAST: Although the government will likely find a solution to this specific issue, the development highlights multiple aspects of the current political impasse on proper governance.
  4. The failure to pass a budget has impacted the government’s capacity to fund infrastructure projects and major national initiatives. This has affected multiple sectors and fields. For instance, the lack of a budget hindered the start of the academic year as the Knesset was forced to pass a special budget in order for schools to open while other state-funded educational services were impacted. More generally, the lack of a long-term budget poses challenges in terms of structural economic reforms and for ministries to provide essential services, including physical and mental healthcare, social provision, and education, which require increased investment in order to meet rising inflation and demand.
  5. FORECAST: Although the government has managed to pass a series of short-term spending plans and special budgets to cover specific needs, the longer the political deadlock continues, the more that certain services and infrastructure plans will be impacted. Furthermore, even if a coalition is formed, if its primary components lack a shared vision beyond replacing the current Netanyahu-led government, this will also hinder state funding and the passing of a viable long-term budget due to disagreement over policy and economic priorities. Taken as a whole, the political situation will continue to have a relative impact on the functioning of the state over the coming months at least. It may also reduce the desire of international firms to commit to invest and set up offices in Israel until a stable government is in place that can facilitate such operations and work in collaboration. This is also evidenced by a warning by an international credit ratings agency from March 31 indicating that while the present situation does not pose immediate risks to Israel’s economic rating, shown by the fact it kept Israel’s credit rating at AA-, if the political situation persists, it will elevate the fiscal risks due to the difficulty in reducing the deficit. Bank of Israel governor Yaron reinforced this concern, stating that “credit ratings companies are worried by the government’s instability and the failure to pass a budget.”
  6. Regardless of the political situation, essential services and infrastructure remain operational and the country is largely functioning as normal. The highly successful COVID-19 vaccine campaign has significantly reduced restrictions on business and commercial activities, with domestic and foreign companies and organizations able to operate without a major hindrance. FORECAST: The political stagnation in the country is more likely to pose a challenge to foreign companies potentially seeking to initiate major investments or launch large-scale projects within Israel. This is because government ministries face both budgetary issues and obstacles in the decision-making process. This may also affect collaboration with ministries or state-funded organizations, but routine operations of existing companies within Israel will continue regardless, albeit delays can be expected when receiving permits, regulatory approvals, or other activities that depend on legislation.

Foreign Relations

  1. The political situation is also somewhat affecting Israel’s ability to forge relations and gain international influence. As a result of political infighting, the current caretaker government, even when it managed to convene on a fairly regular basis, struggled to project a united message to the international community regarding Israel’s policies as senior members of the Likud and Blue and White parties frequently undermined each other. This is particularly the case in sensitive issues of foreign and defense policy, with the latter portfolios being held by Blue and White’s Gabi Ashkenazi and Benny Gantz, respectively, but many diplomatic and security matters being directed by Netanyahu. These competing points of authority have likely posed problems for various states when dealing with Israel. FORECAST: The failure to establish a viable and stable government led by ministers appointed for the long-term will likely pose a challenge for Israel’s efforts to forge relations in essential sectors such as trade and commerce. Foreign governments may be reluctant to commit to such agreements with caretaker officials, while the latter may be restricted by legal obstacles placed upon an interim government.
  2. The current impasse has resulted in a situation wherein 36 new ambassadorial appointees, which have been approved by Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) appointments committee are not yet fulfilling their roles. This situation has been ongoing since November 2020 and many of the ambassadors are reportedly ready and set to be posted on diplomatic missions on an immediate basis. Reports state that this delay is due to a refusal by Netanyahu to bring their approval to the cabinet for its consent. The absence of new ambassadors is a significant issue that is liable to harm Israel’s diplomatic, trade, and security interests. This situation can hinder Israel’s ability to conduct diplomatic campaigns and strategic discourse with other international actors as well as to advance visits of economic delegations to other countries.
  3. Most importantly for Israel, the lack of government can undermine the country’s relations with key strategic allies such as the US. Continued political paralysis within Israel has likely somewhat hindered its ability to build strategies and coordinate with its allies on matters of essential policy and national security. This is because these allies may be reluctant to engage in long-term planning in the absence of a stable government, especially one that may be perceived as volatile and potentially liable to fall as soon as a political crisis emerges. This may impact Israel’s positions on the Iranian nuclear agreement, especially amid international efforts to revive the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA); and any US engagement with the Palestinians.
  4. Another area that the political situation can impact in terms of foreign policy is the pre-election, US-brokered normalization trend that was recorded, consisting of diplomatic agreements between Israel and four Arab states (the UAEBahrain, Sudan, and Morocco). These deals are extremely important and strategic for Israel’s diplomatic, security, and economic interests as they enable Jerusalem to garner additional international support against its adversaries and forge trade and investment relations. FORECAST: This trend is likely to slow down or be suspended altogether in the absence of a stable Israel government that other potential Arab states perceive to be a long-term partner. The regional actors that are most likely to reach a normalization agreement with Israel tend to be relatively risk-averse and attach great importance to stability. Thus, if the political deadlock continues or an unstable government is formed, further normalization agreements are unlikely.

Security

  1. In terms of security, the political deadlock will have an impact on the procurement of military hardware and weaponry. It may also impact the development of advanced security doctrines based on these weapon systems and long-term, large-scale organizational planning. This is due to various budgetary obstacles and challenges posed to the decision-making process. However, over the past two years, despite the political stalemate, Israel has continued to act to safeguard its security interests across multiple arenas. Military activity, both overt and covert, has been reported in various theaters of operation throughout the Middle East region. That said, although these operations are informed by a guiding strategy that has been formulated by previous governments and continues to be updated by Israel’s security agencies, especially vis-a-vis the regional threat posed by Iran and its proxies, the lack of a cohesive government is liable to affect proper governance and the decision-making process. This is shown for instance by the Israeli government’s apparent lack of strategy regarding the best way to manage the threat of militant groups based in the Gaza Strip, which is an issue that periodically emerges with a potentially decisive operation indefinitely put on hold until a stable government is formed. Taken as a whole, despite the political situation dictate, Israel can continue to respond to any threats to its national security and continue to formulate a military strategy to defend these interests.
  2. FORECAST: This situation will impact Israel’s security in the strategic realm and possibly lead to long-term damage as Israel’s adversaries can gain an edge on delays to procure and develop weaponry due to budgetary and decision-making challenges. However, the ability of Israel’s security apparatus to mitigate and thwart security within Israel itself will remain intact over the coming period. The Israeli security agencies have proven during this period of relative political instability and throughout periods of far greater security volatility that the vast majority of local and regional threats, namely along its northern borders and vis-a-vis Palestinian militants in the West Bank and Gaza, are manageable. Thus, the political situation will not lead to a fundamental destabilizing of the security environment within Israel over the coming period.

Election Results and Political Blocs

  • On March 23, Israel held its fourth round of elections for its parliament (the Knesset) in the past two years.
  • During this two-year political deadlock, a government was formed in May 2020, which was led by Prime Minister (PM) Benjamin Netanyahu and the Likud party alongside Benny Gantz, his political rival from the“Blue and White” party. The government’s functioning was hindered by in-fighting and discord between the rival political factions, which eventually led to the dispersal of the Knesset in December 2020, resulting in the March election.
  • The results of the election can be seen below. The political fault lines within Israel since the first election in March 2019 have revolved around the parties’ willingness to join or rejection of a government led by PM Netanyahu, who is on trial having been officially indicted in November 2019 for breach of trust, bribery, and fraud.
  • The debate on Netanyahu’s political and legal status has transcended the traditional left-right discourse within the Israeli political landscape. In this context, parties that are part of the right-wing political camp in Israel, such as former Likud member Gidon Saar’s “New Hope”, have formally declared themselves to be part of the “anti-Netanyahu” or “change” bloc. Other parties, such as Naftali Bennett’s right-wing “Yamina” and Mansour Abbas’ Islamist “Raam”, remain unaffiliated with either of the pro- or anti-Netanyahu blocs.
  • This has resulted in a situation that neither the pro-Netanyahu bloc, primarily made up of right-wing and religious/ultra-Orthodox parties nor the ideologically diverse anti-Netanyahu bloc has been able to form a coalition, which requires a 61-seat majority in the Knesset.
  • On April 6, Netanyahu was given a four-week mandate to form a government by President Reuven Rivlin. He has until May 4 to try to assemble a viable coalition and can thereafter request a 14-day extension at the discretion of the president. If he fails, Rivlin can ask a second person or return the mandate to the Knesset. If these alternatives fail to yield a government, the Knesset will automatically dissolve and another election will be held.

Affiliations of political parties

These are the various political parties and their affiliations and policies.

Pro-Netanyahu blog: Parties, leaders, policies

Anti-Netanyahu bloc: Parties, leaders, policies

Unaffiliated Parties: Leaders, policies


Main options for government coalitions – likelihood and longevity

Option 1: Pro-Netanyahu bloc & Yamina government plus Raam external support in Knesset

  • Prime Minister: Benjamin Netanyahu
  • Coalition Components: Likud, United Torah Judaism, Shas, “Religious Zionism”, and Yamina (59 seats)
  • External support for government votes: Raam (4 seats)

Netanyahu-Led government, Raam supporting from outside

Analysis:

This option is somewhat feasible as it includes various political parties with broadly similar ideological agendas and worldviews in government. Although the Raam party would likely not be a formal part of the government, but an external support bloc, its inclusion poses the greatest challenge to the formation of the government. The “Religious Zionism” party has explicitly stated and reiterated that it will not be part of a government that depends on Raam’s support and this is likely to hinder any progress on this option. This is compounded by major concessions that Netanyahu may have to make to Bennett for the latter to join a government led by the former. In terms of longevity, the Raam party’s leadership is able to cooperate with the religious factions in this potential government, particularly over social policy and support for religious institutions. However, its overall Islamist agenda and links to the Palestinian cause are liable to create complications for the government’s functioning, which would be exacerbated during periods of escalation or religious sensitivities.

Option 2: Pro-Netanyahu bloc & Yamina government plus defectors from the anti-Netanyahu bloc

  • Prime Minister: Benjamin Netanyahu
  • Coalition Components: Likud, United Torah Judaism, Shas, “Religious Zionism”, Yamina + 2 members of anti-Netanyahu bloc shift allegiances (61 seats)

Pro-Netanyahu bloc, Yamina, Defectors from anti-Netanyahu bloc

Analysis:

This government is unlikely due to the reluctance of members of the center or center-right parties to renege on their pledges not to join a government led by Netanyahu amid his indictment on corruption charges. The “Blue and White” party has insisted it will not join a Netanyahu-led government following its previous power-sharing experience with the incumbent prime minister while “New Hope” members, more likely to defect, have so far insisted they will not join the pro-Netanyahu bloc. Although individual members of these parties may choose to join Netanyahu under the pretext of preventing another round of elections, the parties themselves are unlikely to do so due to the potential for a fifth vote and the impact this would have on voters who will perceive this as the violation of election pledges. In terms of longevity, a government made up of the Netanyahu bloc, Yamina, and two defectors from the anti-Netanyahu bloc would likely be more stable on key policies than a Raam-backed coalition. However, with legislation pertaining to Netanyahu’s legal complications, this government would likely face substantial hurdles as several members of Yamina and most potential defectors are unlikely to support any perceived efforts by Netanyahu or his supporters to release him from or evade the legal process.

Option 3: Anti-Netanyahu bloc plus external support from Raam

  • Prime Minister: Naftali Bennett/Yair Lapid (Rotation)
  • Coalition Components: Yesh Atid, Blue & White, Yisrael Beitenu, Labor, Meretz, Yamina, New Hope (58 seats)
  • External support for government votes: Raam (4 seats)

Anti-Netanyahu bloc with support from Raam

Analysis:

In terms of the likelihood of formation, this government faces multiple challenges due to the ideological diversity of the parties it would include and the pressure within both the left-leaning (Yesh Atid, Labor, Meretz) and right-leaning factions of the potential coalition (Yamina, New Hope) to extract concessions from the other. The former parties seek to ensure Yesh Atid’s Labor is the prime minister (PM) or first in any rotation, while the latter right-leaning bloc insists on Bennett as PM and first in the rotation. The right-leaning parties will also aim to block the left-leaning parties from holding key cabinet posts and thus advancing a left-wing agenda as well as blocking their entry to the security cabinet. Even if this government does materialize, it would likely be hindered by major in-fighting and its longevity is thus very low.

Option 4: Netanyahu chooses/forced to sit aside; right-wing government formed

  • Prime Minister: Consensus among right-wing parties
  • Coalition components: Likud, Shas, United Torah Judaism, Yamina, New Hope, Religious Zionism (65 seats)

Right-wing government without Netanyahu

Analysis:

This option is extremely unlikely due to Netanyahu’s widespread popularity among the Likud party and the Ultra-Orthodox parties that support the Likud. Members and voters of these parties would consider any attempt to coerce Netanyahu to step down as anti-democratic, which would create major tensions within Israeli society. Netanyahu also continues to hold significant support among parliamentarians in his and other supporting parties, while even some of his detractors may oppose legislation that prevents him from being prime minister due to its targeted nature. This is evidenced by the failure of anti-Netanyahu parties to pass such legislation over the past years despite their overall opposition to his continued premiership. Taken as a whole, this option is highly unlikely and its longevity is thus negligible.


BOTTOM LINE

Overall, given that all of the above-mentioned options pose considerable challenges to political actors in terms of both the formation of a viable coalition and the longevity of any government, the most likely scenario is either a fifth election with a similar outcome along pro- and anti-Netanyahu lines or an unstable government that fails to complete its term and thus elections are again called.


Recommendations:

In light of the current situation:

  1. Those operating or residing in Israel, or seeking to do so, are advised to remain abreast of the ongoing political situation, which is liable to have an impact on business continuity.
  2. It is advised to allot for obstacles to cooperation with public sector bodies and ministries as well as other state-funded organizations.
  3. Allot for disruptions to processes that require government permits, regulatory approvals, or other activities that are liable to depend on legislation.
  4. More generally, allot for continued restrictions on entry to Israel due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Consult with us at [email protected] or +44-20-3540-0434 for guidance on entry to Israel amid the current limitations.

General Recommendations:

  1. Travel to Israel may continue at this time while adhering to security precautions regarding militant attacks, while avoiding the immediate vicinity of the Syrian, Lebanese, and Egyptian borders, due to the persistent risk for cross-border violence.
  2. Those traveling in the 40 km area surrounding the Gaza Strip should continue adhering to all safety precautions regarding early warning sirens for incoming rockets. Remain cognizant of the situation along with the Lebanese and Syrian border areas, as minor hostilities between various groups can escalate into a broader conflict. In case you hear a siren, seek shelter in a protected area and remain inside for at least 10 minutes.
  3. In major Israeli cities, remain vigilant in crowded commercial areas or public transport hubs, as these locations have been targeted by militant groups in the past. Alert authorities to suspicious, unattended packages in these areas.
  4. As a general precaution, avoid nonessential travel to the vicinity of Jerusalem’s Old City, particularly in the vicinity of Damascus Gate, due to the increased potential for acts of militancy and civil unrest. For those seeking to travel to the Old City, it is advised to contact us for a security-oriented travel guide.

New unified interim government to face challenges, security situation in country to remain largely static over coming months – Libya Analysis

Executive Summary

  • A new unified interim government for Libya, known as the Government of National Unity (GNU), was voted in on February 5, approved by the House of Representatives (HoR) on March 10, and officially sworn in on March 16. The GNU’s main prerogative is the organization of national elections in Libya on December 24. Its mandate will end on this date.
  • This development is a strategic gamechanger for the political landscape of Libya as this is the first time that the country has had a unified government since 2014. It represents a major breakthrough in the political deadlock that has characterized Libya over recent years.
  • However, there are several challenges that lie ahead for the GNU, which will hinder its ability to effectively dispense its duties over the coming months. This includes challenges arising from local skepticism surrounding the GNU’s legitimacy, political infighting within and between various state institutions, and the proliferation of local militias across the country.
  • Therefore, while the formation of the GNU will at least partly stabilize the country in the coming months, the security situation of Libya will remain largely static due to the prevalence of militant groups and militias as well as the lack of a unified security apparatus under the GNU’s command.
  • It is advised to defer all travel to Tripoli at this time due to the current political instability and the risk of a broad deterioration of security conditions. Travel to Benghazi, Misrata, and Tobruk should be for essential purposes only, while adhering to all security precautions. Contact us at [email protected] or +44 20-3540-0434 for itinerary and contingency support plans.

Read more about the on-ground implications of this development for Libya

Download full report - New unified interim government to face challenges, security situation in country to remain largely static over coming months - Libya Analysis


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Constitutional, foreign policies bolster PM Abe’s bid in LDP presidential elections on September 20 – Japan Analysis

Executive Summary

Presidential elections within the ruling-Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) will take place on September 20, with incumbent Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and former Defense Minister Shigeru Ishiba competing for the leadership spot.

Proposed constitutional amendments are expected to be a major sticking point in the election, and might ultimately boost PM Abe’s favorability.

A series of domestic scandals have impacted PM Abe’s approval ratings, but are they unlikely to single-handedly block his electoral prospects.

PM Abe’s proactive foreign diplomacy agenda thus far is likely to bolster his campaign due to perceptions of stability associated with his engagement on the North Korea issue.

Travel to Japan can continue as normal while adhering to basic security precautions regarding protests.

Current Situation

On August 10, former Defense Minister, Shigeru Ishiba, formally announced his candidacy for the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) internal presidential elections, which are slated for September 20. On August 26, incumbent Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced his own candidacy, which, if elected, would place him in contention to become Japan’s longest-serving post-war leader and extend his term to 2021. According to reports from September 7, PM Abe already holds support from five of the party’s seven factions, representing approximately 257 parliamentary votes, whereas Ishiba’s support was recorded at only 20. A third candidate withdrew from the race on August 31 due to insufficient support.

Reports from August 15 indicate that PM Abe intends on introducing LDP-drafted legislation for revising the constitution’s war-renouncing Article 9 during the next parliamentary session in the coming months. Ishiba advised caution on August 17 in regards to the proposed amendments, claiming that PM Abe’s LDP-drafted legislation has yet to be approved by the entire party. Meanwhile, multiple scandals in 2017 have affected PM Abe’s approval ratings in recent months. This included the reappearance of a scandal from the previous year involving the leader’s wife and a land deal, unreported activity logs regarding Japanese troops in Iraq, and allegations of sexual assault against a Finance Ministry bureaucrat close to him. As a result, PM Abe’s public approval ratings have fluctuated since March, reaching as low as 27 percent.

At the present time, Japan continues to play a vital role in multiple foreign-policy initiatives, including a multinational Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and a Pacific security strategy embraced by Washington. Regionally, Japan has a stake in the ongoing negotiations with North Korea. Reports from August 29 indicate that Japanese and North Korean officials held a secret meeting in July, while speculation has emerged over a potential meeting between leaders of the two countries in the near term, although this has yet to be confirmed. Globally, PM Abe maintains a close relationship with US President Donald Trump, having met at least eight times since Trump took office. This comes amid ongoing trade measures by Washington, which includes auto tariffs that may impact Japan.

Assessments

Proposed constitutional amendments will inform elections as a major talking point

Amendments to the country’s constitution have been a longstanding debate due to Japan’s history as a perceived antagonistic power and fears that replacing the decades-old pacifist character may lead to a revival of the country’s past militarism. Given these fears, large sections of LDP appear to favor a more moderate and gradual approach in order to avoid completely alienating grassroots support for the ruling party. In this context, the LDP is unlikely to support Ishiba on the basis of constitutional amendments given his relatively more radical views. For instance, Ishiba has campaigned for the removal of Paragraph 2 in Article 9, which has denied Japan’s “right to belligerency”. Instead, PM Abe is likely the favorable choice given his relatively more moderate approach. Additionally, electing him to the position would provide leadership stability and may improve the party’s chances of effecting constitutional change.

In terms of a timeline for introducing the constitutional changes, PM Abe appears more proactive than his rival. Ishiba has stated that he preferred the revisions remain on the back burner and called for legislative caution on August 18. His reticence likely stems from fears that overtly disagreeing with the party-backed policy will impact his success. However, this is likely to be viewed as uncertainty in Ishiba’s platform, impacting his chances of defeating PM Abe in the elections. Meanwhile, Abe has announced his intentions to introduce the LDP-drafted bills in the near term. This highlights his attempts to retain party backing among the various factions by using LDP-backed legislation.

Domestic scandals impact PM Abe’s approval ratings, but unlikely to entirely diminish prospects

A number of recent scandals may have eroded PM Abe’s public favorability gains and appeared to have boosted Ishiba’s confidence to challenge the incumbent leader, despite having failed in three consecutive LDP leadership elections since 2008. In 2012, Ishiba achieved a majority from rank-and-file party members, which he likely believed may happen again in the upcoming race given the prime minister’s significantly deteriorated approval ratings. This possibility emerged as a result of a surge in public opposition against PM Abe in March, due to concerns over abuses of power and government cover-ups in recent scandals. This also has seemingly informed Ishiba’s election platform, which is based on reforms for an “honest and fair” government.

Despite this, PM Abe is liable to recover from the scandal allegations, as was similarly witnessed in the 2017 snap elections, which resulted in the LDP’s super-majority. At this time, PM Abe has already started exhibiting a similar upswing in more recent public approval ratings, which was recorded at approximately 44 percent as of August 26, in comparison to the 26.7 percent in April. PM Abe’s party approval from five of the seven factions further highlights the broad nature of his intra-party appeal. While scandal allegations may affect the margins of support he may eventually draw, the current numbers indicate that the scandals themselves are unlikely to single-handedly block PM Abe’s candidacy.

PM Abe’s foreign policy agenda likely increases electability due to perceptions of stability

Japan’s role in various foreign initiatives thus far can be attributed in part to PM Abe’s foreign policy agenda. The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) remains a relevant trade agreement among 11 international partners, despite the US’ withdrawal in 2017, due to Japan’s initiative in leading negotiations thereafter. The agreement’s success may contribute to positive perceptions surrounding PM Abe’s abilities to ensure Japan’s interests are addressed in multilateral forums in the region.

Despite the US’ move regarding the TPP, PM Abe maintains a relatively positive relationship with US President Donald Trump, as demonstrated by numerous meetings between the two leaders in recent months. A continuation of this relationship will likely be a major priority for voting members. In the context of Washington’s recent trade tariffs, PM Abe’s relations with President Trump may be seen as an asset, given its potential use in minimizing the effects of automobile industry-specific tariffs on Tokyo.

Furthermore, these relations are vital in the context of regional threats, given that the US is in negotiations with Japan’s primary external security concern, North Korea. PM Abe’s hardline stance on North Korea and push for the greater visibility of Tokyo’s position in future regional dialogue will further aid his campaign. These include concerns over the alleged North Korean abductions of Japanese citizens and the security threat from future missile tests or failure to denuclearize at an adequate pace. The government has demonstrated its support for the prime minister’s stance by approving a military budget increase, although this is pending parliamentary approval. Given Tokyo’s eagerness to ensure its position is well represented in future regional dialogue on North Korea, the LDP may be motivated to retain its current leader. Further, Abe is slated to visit China in October, the first time a sitting Japanese leader has done so since 2011.  Perceptions of stability associated with PM Abe amid these ongoing foreign policy initiatives will help shore up support for his presidency of the LDP.

Recommendations

Travel security – travel to Japan can continue as normal while adhering to basic security precautions regarding protests.

In Tokyo, allow for additional travel time near the Prime Minister’s Office and National Diet, due to the frequency of protests at these locations.

Islamic State claim of church shooting in Dagestan likely to trigger increase in counter-militancy raids amid growing threat ahead of elections, World Cup – Russia Analysis

Current Situation

Islamic State claim of church shooting in Dagestan likely to trigger increase in counter-militancy raids amid growing threat ahead of elections, World Cup - Russia Analysis | MAX Security

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On February 19, the Islamic State (IS)claimed responsibility for a shooting attack that left five worshippers dead and five others wounded, including two security personnel, outside a Christian Orthodox Church in Kizlyar City of Dagestan on February 18.

The incident reportedly began when the assailant, now identified as a local resident named Khalil Khalilov, opened fire using a hunting rifle, targeting a group of worshippers who were leaving a church ceremony dedicated to the start of the lent season for Russian Orthodox Christians. According to a statement from the Ministry of the Interior, the assailant was neutralized by the security forces almost immediately following the incident.

At the end of December 2017, the North Caucasus saw a significant rise in anti-militancy operations from the Russian authorities, with a threefold rise in raids compared to the previous two months combined. This came before the entry into the holiday and election seasons, as the Russian Orthodox calendar celebrates a number of festivals at the beginning of the year and the first round of elections are slated for March 18, 2018. In addition, these operations came as part of a more macro plan by the government to increase the levels of security in Russia in general, ahead of the 2018 World Cup to be held in June/July.

Islamic State claim of church shooting in Dagestan likely to trigger increase in counter-militancy raids amid growing threat ahead of elections, World Cup - Russia Analysis | MAX Security

Assessments & Forecast

Given that the claim was an official publication from IS, that it came less than 24-hours after the incident, and that it explicitly mentions “Qawqaz Wilayah” at the top, referring to the IS’s affiliate in the North Caucasus, we assess that the attack was likely directed by IS leadership. IS has recently been looking to increase its focus in Russia and one of the primary ways it has achieved this goal is through the Qawqaz Wilayah affiliate, built primarily of local Caucasian militants who have long been organized into jihadist cells. Initially stemming from the Chechen wars in the 1990s and 2000s, many militants received training within the group’s ranks in Syria, where North Caucasian Russians made up a significant number of the foreign fighters.

The reason for IS’ interest in Russia is based on both ideology and practicality. From an ideological point of view, Russia played a significant role in reducing the power of the Islamic State in Syria, by supporting the Bashar al-Assad government militarily, making them one of the most prominent targets for retribution in the eyes of the group’s leadership. In addition, with the elections and World Cup coming up in 2018, the country is receiving particular international attention, compounding the attractiveness of carrying out attacks.

From a practical point of view, given that Russia already has a high number of radical jihadist militants and Islamist minded individuals, both in the form of Caucasian cells and Central Asian semi-organized lone wolf groups, it is a prime country to encourage attacks. There are also a large number of fighters from Syria who are believed to have returned to the country and have both the training and motivation to carry out major attacks. In that regard, Russia is somewhat of a vulnerable target, given the extensive militant networks which have existed in the country for decades, as well as the large numbers of poor, disenfranchised Muslims, particularly Central Asian immigrants, who are good targets for online radicalization.

While attacks are fairly common in the North Caucasus (occurring almost every month), they usually target security forces and not civilian targets. Not only was the February 18 attack directed at a civilian target, but it was directed at an Orthodox Church, viewed by many as a symbol of Russian pride and culture, likely making the attack particularly negative for many of the Russian populace. This incident stands out from the regular trends of militancy in the North Caucasus as a notable and particularly heinous attack, which will spur the government to pay particular attention.  IS and their affiliates likely deliberately targeted an Orthodox Church knowing how sensitive the issue is, in an attempt to catalyze ethnic and religious tensions in the country, between Muslim Caucasians and Orthodox Russians. Such tensions allow them to better recruit and carry out attacks, as Muslim youth in the country becomes increasingly disenfranchised by the religious friction.

FORECAST: The incident on February 18 underscores the previously assessed threat of militant activity targeting the civilian population in the coming months, based on their attempts to carry out attacks in the run-up to the elections and World Cup. Such attacks are likely to primarily manifest in two ways. The first will come from small cells and organized groups in the North Caucasus, who primarily operate within that region. The second will come from IS-inspired “homegrown” cells in major cities in Russia, which are predominantly made up of self-radicalized militants of Central Asian origin. While both militant threats have the potential to manifest in attacks in major cities going forward, past precedent has indicated that the threat from Central Asian radicals is more pertinent in Moscow and St. Petersburg.

FORECAST: The Russian government is aware of the acute militant threat in the country, particularly in the North Caucasus, and the current administration, led by President Vladimir Putin, who is running for reelection, is cognizant of its need to maintain a strong hold on the country’s security. Security forces will likely be instructed to carry out a large number of visible counter-militancy raids, particularly in the North Caucasus, to display to the electorate that the Putin administration is handling the militancy problem properly and to build confidence in the Kremlin. This will occur similar to what happened before the winter holiday season, which saw a dramatic increase in anti-militancy operations. The Russian government is also keen to portray a stable security situation to the international community, ahead of the 2018 World Cup, which is being staged throughout the country, (with games being played in Sochi and Rostov-on-Don both near to the North Caucasus region) and has been explicitly mentioned by the Islamic State as a potential target for attacks.

FORECAST: The raids are likely to occur over the coming weeks and involve major operations in the North Caucasus which will likely see Special Operations units attempt to arrest or neutralize armed militant cells, predominantly in the republics of Chechnya, Dagestan, and Ingushetia. In addition, it is also likely that arrests will be recorded in both Moscow and St. Petersburg, focusing more on Central Asian self-radicalized homegrown cells.

Islamic State claim of church shooting in Dagestan likely to trigger increase in counter-militancy raids amid growing threat ahead of elections, World Cup - Russia Analysis | MAX Security

Recommendations

Travel to Moscow and St. Petersburg may continue at this time while adhering to standard security protocols given the latent threat of militancy, crime, and civil unrest.

Avoid all nonessential travel to the North Caucasus region, including Dagestan, given the elevated potential for militant incidents targeting civilians.

Maintain vigilance when traveling in Russia around notable events such as the national elections or 2018 World Cup, given the increased potential for militancy.

How will ruling party’s landslide victory in Japanese election affect security and stance on North Korea? – Japan Analysis

Current Situation

Japan held nationwide general elections on October 22 to appoint 465 people to the House of Representatives, the country’s Lower House of parliament. The ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), as well as the newly established Party of Hope (PoH) and Japanese Communist Party (JCP), were all vying for seats. The traditional primary opposition party, the Democratic Party of Japan (DP), decided not to field any candidates after a crushing defeat to LDP in 2012. The Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan (CDPJ) was formed after a split from the DP in October 2017, further weakening the once powerful DP.

The LDP secured 284 seats out of a total of 312 seats obtained by the ruling coalition while the CDPJ came second with a seat share of 55 seats. PoH came in third with 50 seats.

The snap elections were called after PM Abe dissolved the Lower House on September 28, citing the administration’s need for a fresh mandate to deal with contentious subjects like intensified North Korean hostilities and controversies surrounding domestic social welfare policies. PM Abe has also long called for reforms to Japan’s pacifist constitution, a highly emotive proposition in a largely pacifist Japanese society.

The PM’s approval rating had witnessed a notable dip in July 2017 following allegations of his involvement in a number of scandals involving cronyism. However, polls taken in September suggested that the approval ratings bounced back in the immediate aftermath of North Korea’s firing of two ballistic missiles over Japanese airspace during the month. PM Abe is considered to maintain a hawkish stance regarding Pyongyang’s provocations.

PoH leader Yuriko Koike, a former LDP lawmaker and the current governor of Tokyo, announced the formation of her party in September, attempting to contrast the relatively hawkish policies of the ruling government by calling for more tempered policy vis-a-vis North Korea, a freeze in tax hikes, and the establishing of a 2030 deadline to eliminate nuclear power plants. Despite their stated differences, critics claimed that the party was too ideologically similar to the ruling LDP and that it failed to offer feasible policy alternatives.

How will ruling party’s landslide victory in Japanese election affect security and stance on North Korea? - Japan Analysis | MAX Security

Assessments & Forecast

Opposition weaknesses, PM Abe’s tough stance towards North Korea likely served as key determinants in LDP’s retention of super-majority in parliament

PM Abe’s decision to call for snap elections was likely influenced by the recent surge in his approval ratings, perceived to largely stem from his tough stance on North Korea. As tensions with Pyongyang reached unprecedented heights in recent months, culminating in the missile launches over Japan on August 29 and September 15, PM Abe’s attempts to foster a more offensive-capable military by revising Japan’s pacifist constitution became increasingly palatable to the general public. The resounding nature of the victory highlighted current priorities of the Japanese general public, which may have placed the PM’s alleged involvement in scandal and feelings of anti-incumbency as secondary when compared to direct security threats from Pyongyang.

Another significant factor in the victory was the perceived lack of a viable alternative, as the newly created PoH was too weak to pose a legitimate electoral challenge to the ruling party. Apart from the party’s inability to significantly distinguish itself from the LDP in terms of policy, another significant factor was Koike’s decision not to participate in the election itself but rather remain as the party head. Voters likely perceived this as an attempt by Koike to hedge her bets, using the election as an opportunity to test the political waters while still maintaining her position as the current governor of Tokyo.

How will ruling party’s landslide victory in Japanese election affect security and stance on North Korea? - Japan Analysis | MAX Security

PM Abe unlikely to push for amendment of constitution in the immediate term due to contentious status in society, US pressure

PM Abe will likely use the LDP’s electoral gains as evidence that the society is supportive of revisions to the country’s post-World War II pacifist constitution, which the leader has suggested he aims to amend by 2020. Conversely, as of present, only the CDPJ remains vocally opposed to the constitutional review. The PM will likely highlight the poor electoral performance of the CDPJ as an indication of growing public consensus regarding Japan’s evolving regional security environment.

Before dealing with the constitution, the new government’s immediate priority will likely remain economic recovery and containing the North Korean threat, particularly as the snap election was called by PM Abe as a mandate on the government’s handling of those issues and not the constitutional review. Despite strong support for the LDP and his candidacy, PM Abe continues to maintain low approval ratings. The fact that the election victory was at least partially the result of a lack of credible alternatives to the Japanese public, movement on more contentious issues like the constitution will likely continue to be met with severe backlash. Even LDP’s coalition partner, Komeito, which is open to a constitutional review, has indicated that it will still likely be an “opposition within the coalition” on the matter.

As such, the PM would likely not push for reforms in the immediate term, instead, using geopolitical triggers that the country can rally behind as evidence of the necessity for such changes, such as a dramatic escalation in North Korea tensions or perceived aggressive movements by Beijing in the Spratly Islands. Even though the LDP has a supermajority, since it is such an emotive issue, PM Abe is unlikely to attempt to alter the constitution without some form of a unity government, especially given that many opposition parties have expressed their willingness to hold a review of the 70-year-old constitution. Their motivations for expressing willingness are likely an attempt to have some degree of influence over the deliberations on the changes.

PM Abe’s hardline stance against North Korea in recent months has seemingly paid off in the eyes of the general populace. This suggests that the Japanese PM will attempt to double down on his hawkish stance, further supporting aggressive sanctions against North Korea with strong mechanisms for enforcing them. He is also likely to continue his policy of non-negotiation with Pyongyang. While US President Donald Trump is especially supportive of PM Abe, the US is unlikely to support the constitutional reform, as the move will likely be viewed by both Beijing and Seoul, both of which suffered under Japan’s World War II expansion, as provocative and destabilizing. Further, it may complicate the long-standing military relationship between the two nations.

US relations with Japan likely to see improvement under new administration

FORECAST: The controversial constitutional changes aside, overall, Japan’s relations with the US are likely to improve as a result of Abe’s landslide election victory, given the convergence of strategic interests on several issues including regional security. It is also important to note PM Abe’s seemingly excellent interpersonal relationship with US President Donald Trump. In contrast to the leaders of other traditional US-allied nations like German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron, who have been critical of the newly-elected US President, Abe’s efforts have thus far focused exclusively on charming Trump. This includes Abe’s visit to Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort just one week after he was elected, as well as over a dozen phone calls between the two since the President took office. It was reported that President Trump asked a group of congressmen in mid-June why they could not be more like Shinzo Abe. This closeness will likely be especially apparent in the coming week when the US President is expected to visit Japan as part of his November overseas trip.

This relatively unique relationship may compel PM Abe to push for increased defense cooperation with the US, with a particular focus on bolstering Japan’s ballistic missile defense capabilities. It also remains possible he will use the constitutional review as leverage over the US, as having additional close protection services from its ally would minimize the justifications for needing an offensive military force. This would also alleviate recently growing sentiments in Japanese society, which see Washington’s inability to come to Tokyo’s aid and deter Pyongyang’s repeated ballistic missile launches and threatening rhetoric as an indication that the country must defend itself.

PM Abe’s successful reelection will nevertheless be perceived as a favorable result by Washington with respect to the US-Japan alliance. Similarly, regional neighbors concerned by Beijing’s maritime expansionism, like Taiwan, the Philippines, and Vietnam, are also expected to welcome the election results, as PM Abe has visibly strengthened defense relations with these actors during his term in office.