Tokyo Olympics on track but can’t afford a false start

By Chen Yang

Amid fast spread of the coronavirus disease around the world, there are growing concerns about whether the Tokyo Olympic Games can kick off as scheduled. Currently, the Japanese government has repeatedly insisted that the Olympics will go ahead, and it is still preparing to host the event.
This is in line with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s recent diplomatic activities. From Friday to Sunday, Abe held calls with US President Donald Trump, French President Emmanuel Macron, and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson. In addition to emphasizing measures against the coronavirus, they also agreed that their countries will work together to ensure that the Tokyo Olympics will be held as planned.
It is not clear which side first brought up the sporting event in their talks, but Abe has sent a signal to Japan and the rest of world that the Olympics remain on track, and a high priority.
The Olympics are significant for host countries, but it could mean much more for Japan. It is 56 years since Tokyo held the Games for the first time. Then, Japan, under reconstruction after being vanquished in the WWII, declared its reappearance on the world stage by holding the mass event.
Today, Japan is the world’s third-largest economy, but it is also suffering from sluggish economic growth, low fertility, an aging population, and political chaos. Hence, the Olympics could be a crucial opportunity for Japan to demonstrate its vitality in the Reiwa era. Equally, postponing or canceling the event would be unthinkable to Japan, and the country’s preparations are continuing as normal.
The Games often bring a focus the host’s politics. Tokyo 2020 would be no exception, and it could directly affect two major political topics in Japan: constitutional amendment and post-Abe leadership.
Abe is scheduled to be in office until September 2021. If the Games go ahead in July as planned, the Abe administration will probably start the procedures of amending Constitution in the second half of 2020, and then launch a referendum by the end of this year or in early 2021. This would be the last chance for Abe in his third term.
Taking advantage of the grand sporting event, Abe may dissolve the House of Representatives and call a snap general election in 2020 summer or early 2021, paving way for his Liberal Democratic Party (LDP).
However, if the Games cannot kick off on schedule, the Abe administration’s agenda of constitutional amendment will be interrupted, affecting the election of LDP as a ruling party.
Abe needs sufficient time and stable public opinion to convince Japanese citizens to accept constitutional amendment. Besides, Abe will have his hands tied in dissolving the lower House if Tokyo Olympics cannot stay on track, because the event is about people’s interests, while dissolving the House of Representatives attends only the interests of LDP. Abe certainly doesn’t want to lose trust of the people. From this aspect, the Tokyo Olympics are like a dividend to Abe and LDP. Japan is facing a relatively modest outbreak of the coronavirus, but European countries and the US cannot be that optimistic.
–The Daily Mail-Global Times news exchange item