Zimbabwe: A Quick Primer

On Tuesday night, Zimbabwe's military detained the country's president, Robert Mugabe. They then went on air on Wednesday to say that they had taken temporary control of the country. It seemed that they had brought down Zimbabwe's 93-year-old leader - who has been in power for the past 37 years. But the military claims what they've done is not a coup. FPI Fellow Kamissa Camara, who is also the Director of Sub-Saharan Africa at Partners Global, breaks it down.

FPI: What is happening in Zimbabwe? 

Kamissa Camara: On Wednesday, senior officials of the Zimbabwean army took control of the state broadcaster ZBC as well as the Harare International airport. The military also blocked access to government offices in what looks like a successful military coup.

At the heart of the matter:

Mugabe’s life presidency aspirations. He's been in charge for 37-years and is the oldest African president. He wanted to extend his hold over Zimbabwe through his wife, Grace Mugabe. Mrs. Mugabe is widely unpopular in the country - citizens spurning her arrogance and lavish lifestyle. Zimbabwe's vice president, Emmerson Mnangagwa, emerged as a possible candidate to thwart Mrs. Mugabe's ascendancy. He was sacked on November 6, following a rally in which Mrs. Mugabe was booed. Mnangawa’s relationships within the military have been strong and the military takeover is clearly a direct consequence of this month’s events.

FPI: Why is the military denying that this is a coup? 

KC: What a mystery! The events in Zimbabwe fit the perfect description of a military coup… but the word “coup” has only been mentioned by the local and international media and not by the military leaders who took over. In a coup-like situation, it is however very rare that men in uniform qualify their actions as a “coup” in order to legitimize their actions. What is happening in Zimbabwe is a coup, no matter what the military says.

FPI: Could you talk about Zimbabwe's role in Africa? 

KC: Zimbabwe was once one of southern Africa’s most prosperous countries. With an inclusive education system and infrastructure in place, the country used to be the breadbasket of Southern Africa. In 1997, Zimbabwe was Africa's fastest growing country. It's shrunk since then. Mugabe’s harsh policies, which included the seizure and redistribution of white-owned land and farms, drove the country into a deep recession. Unemployment stands at 85%. Inflation is rampant. The country has become the sore spot of a vibrant Southern Africa region.

FPI: What should we expect to come over the next few weeks?

KC: It is important to remember that what is happening in Zimbabwe is not a triumphal revolution by the people, for the people. There are reasons to be cautious as to what the next weeks will look like in Zimbabwe: the military is running the show, and Emmerson Mnangagwa who is increasingly being featured as Mugabe’s successor does not embody the democratic values that Zimbabweans have been craving for. For years, the ruling party Zanu-PF has been strategizing for a post-Mugabe era; should someone like Mnangagwa take over, Zimbabwe would have replaced an old rag with another old rag. An ideal outcome would be a government of national unity - and measures to prevent a deepening of the political crisis.

Uzbekistan: A Brief Primer

Sayfullo Saipov put Uzbekistan into the headlines this week, after driving a truck onto a pedestrian path in lower Manhattan. It's a country most of us aren't familiar with. We caught up with FPI Fellow Kate Himes, the Director of the James A. and Louise McClure Center for Public Policy Research to get a better understanding of the country, US relations with Uzbekistan, and the possibility of growing extremism.

FPI: Uzbekistan has been dominating the news this week. What should we know about Uzbekistan?

Kate Himes: Uzbekistan, a former Soviet Republic, is located in Central Asia, bordered by Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan. Home to nearly 33 million people, Uzbekistan is filled with vast regions of desert, mountains, technology-based agriculture, modern cities, high speed rail, and well-preserved UNESCO World Heritage sites from centuries on the Silk Road. The country is facing an uncertain political future, with the First President, Islam Karimov, passing in 2016. Shavkat Mirziyoyev, the Second President, indicates that his leadership will pursue a less autocratic path than that of his predecessor. Of note: Uzbekistan has a proud science and technology tradition, with major contributions during the Islamic Golden Age. In fact, modern trigonometry was founded in Uzbekistan!

FPI: The U.S. cooperates with Uzbekistan on science and technology. How? 

KH: The U.S. and Uzbekistan entered into a formal Science & Technology Agreement in 2010, signed by then-U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and First Deputy Prime Minister Rustam Azimov. In 2014, the two countries met for the first time in Tashkent, Uzbekistan’s capital, to explore more deeply areas of scientific and technical cooperation. These included agriculture, renewable energy, and evidence-based medicine. Approximately 30 U.S. scientists, university researchers, government officials, and non-profit representatives joined 60 Uzbek scientists, researchers, and government officials to create a two-year action plan.

While the formal bilateral agreement is new, the two countries have cooperated for decades on agriculture research. For example, both the University of California-Davis and Texas A&M University explore a variety of agriculture topics with Uzbekistan colleagues, given the similarity in climate. Uzbek delegations have visited UC-Davis, even exploring the latest in viticulture, an area of economic growth in Uzbekistan. Over twenty varieties of table grapes alone are harvested in Uzbekistan!

FPI: Is Uzbekistan a hotbed for extremism? Or is it headed in that direction? If so, what can we do to stop it? 

KH: Uzbekistan is headed in that direction. Major challenges include slow economic growth, increasing unemployed or underemployed youth population, decreasing development aid and diplomatic engagement, and growing Russian interest in the region. The US Agency for International Development Mission to Central Asia supports four countries of the former Soviet Union (Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan) in areas of democracy and governance, economic growth, agriculture, and health, despite decreasing budgets. Diplomatic engagement in this region is not a priority for the current U.S. administration. Development and diplomacy now, rather than military or clandestine intervention in the future, are worth every penny (foreign affairs comprises less than 1% of the U.S. Federal Budget) to maintain peace in Central Asia.

FPI's Fall 2017 fellows

Whew, 2017. You got us.

We came at you strong: we edited the World Policy Journal winter issue penned entirely by women. New America announced that they had our backs and invested in our mission to interrupt the White-Men-Talk-War fest. The Women's March gave us fuel to forge ahead. But you punched back: Trump, white supremacists, Harvey Weinstein. Yes, #UsToo.

Here's the thing: The year isn't over - and we are far from done. 

Now more than ever, we need to make sure the conversations we have about the world are as representative and diverse as possible. As we launch our sixth fellowship cycle, we're determined like never before to change the game.

We’ve once again assembled a truly talented set of women (seven this cycle!) and we can’t wait to work with them to interrupt foreign policy, enrich the discussion, and change the ratio (and the world).

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Without further adieu, meet our sixth class of interruptors:

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Laura Gil is a Colombian-Uruguayan internationalist with an expertise in human rights and a fascination for all things United Nations, especially as they relate to the UN’s involvement in Colombia. She has worked for the United Nations, the Organization of American States, and the International Organization for Migration and, in Colombia, the Congressional Commission on International Relations, the Diplomatic Academy of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the Ministry of the Interior, as well as for international and domestic non-governmental organizations.

She dedicated the past decade of her career as a human rights advisor to the adoption and implementation of the Law on Reparations for Victims and Land Restitution, a landmark that contributed to the opening of peace talks with the Farc.

She writes for the op-ed page of El Tiempo, Colombia’s largest newspaper, on issues relating to foreign policy and international affairs and peace and human rights. She won a national journalism award for her columns on the Nicaragua – Colombia border and was a Stanford University’s Draper Hills Fellow. She also directed Hashtag International, a TV program dedicated to international analysis.

Fun-fact: Laura did the Great Book Program at St John’s College. That is such a unique program that, over the years, she has oftentimes felt stranger than a checkered dog… a very well-read checkered dog, though.

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Sally Kantar is a freelance journalist writing on issues of armed conflict, forced migration, and ethnic nationality rights, particularly in Burma/Myanmar. Her articles have appeared in Refugees DeeplyNew America WeeklyWarscapes and The Irrawaddy, and explore the refugee crisis along the Thai-Burma border, the long-running persecution of the Rohingya minority, and shifting US policy in the country.

For the last several years, Sally has been based in Southeast Asia, where she has worked as an editor with regional media organizations and as a teacher within community-based social justice education initiatives.

She holds an MA in Conflict Resolution from the University of Bradford in the UK, and a BA in Journalism from Michigan State University, in her home state.

Fun-fact: Sally enjoys writing haikus—but only about food.

 

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Adrienne Klasa is Editor of the Financial Times’ This Is Africa, with a particular interest in the intersection between politics, business and international currents across the region. Her writing has also appeared in the Guardian, the Financial Times, Foreign Policy, Slate and Forbes, among others. She has traveled to and reported from some 20 countries across Africa as well as covering major summits such as the UN general assembly, the Skoll World Forum, the World Economic Forum for Africa and the World Bank annual meetings. Her speaking engagements include various UN agencies, the OECD, the London School of Business, Financial Times summits, the International Trade Center and the Business Council for Africa. She has appeared as a commentator for the CDC Group, Radio France International, the Danish Broadcasting Corporation and Al Jazeera English. 

Originally from Vancouver, Canada, and currently based in London, she has also lived in New York, Washington D.C., Cairo and Nairobi. She holds a BA from McGill University and an MA from the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London.
Fun-fact: Adrienne thought she would be a professional violinist before setting her sights on journalism at 17. She also has an irrational fear of squirmy things at the bottom of lakes.
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Lynn Kuok is a nonresident fellow at Brookings Institution, and a senior research fellow at the University of Cambridge. From February to August 2017, she was a senior visiting research fellow at the Centre for International Law, National University of Singapore. She is a member of the World Economic Forum’s Global Future Council on International Security. She has held fellowships at Harvard Law School, the Harvard Kennedy School, and the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Dr Kuok works on the politics, law and security of the Asia-Pacific region, with a focus on the South China Sea dispute, and nationalism and race and religious relations in Southeast Asia (Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia and Myanmar). Her analysis has featured in influential publications and broadsheets, including Foreign Affairs and The Wall Street Journal. She has also been interviewed by and quoted in various broadcast and print media, including the BBC, Al Jazeera, the New York Times and the Associated Press.

She holds a PhD in Politics and International Studies from the University of Cambridge, a Master of Arts in Law and Diplomacy from The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, and a law degree from the National University of Singapore. She has served as editor-in-chief of the Cambridge Review of International Affairs and the Singapore Law Review.

Fun-fact: Lynn enjoys British detective dramas, but none more than ‘Grantchester’, a village on the outskirts of Cambridge and home of Rupert Brooke, where she has fond memories of taking tea as a student. She once campaigned against the humble full stop (period). But. Uses. Them. Liberally. Now. 

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Monica Marks is a Rhodes Scholar, PhD candidate at Oxford University, and leading expert on politics and Islamist movements in Tunisia and Turkey. She conducts research in Arabic, Turkish, and French. From 2012 to 2016, she was based in Tunisia, where she has conducted over 1,200 interviews with Tunisians ranging from cement factory owners and small-town police officers to leftist revolutionaries and Salafi jihadists. This research forms the backbone of her dissertation and forthcoming book, which explores the role of Islamism in shaping Tunisia's democratic transition. 

A former Fulbright Scholar to Turkey, Monica is currently based in Istanbul, where she has taught as a Visiting Professor in the Politics and International Relations Department of Istanbul’s Bogazici University. She also co-directs The Exchange, a series of professional immersion courses on the politics of Libya, Tunisia, and Iraqi Kurdistan. These "politics in the field" courses bring academics, diplomats, and analysts from around the world to the region itself, where they engage in dozens of intensive Q&A meetings with local experts and leaders across the political and ideological spectrum. 

Recently, Monica was a Visiting Fellow at Columbia University’s SIPA school, a Doctoral Fellow with the European Research Council-funded WAFAW program, and a Visiting Fellow with the European Council on Foreign Relations.  
Fun-fact: Monica is fascinated by the interplay of religion and political power, an interest she traces to her childhood growing up as a Jehovah's Witness in evangelical Eastern Kentucky. 

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Molly O’Toole is a freelance journalist and contributor at Foreign Policy, covering global migration and security from Central America, South Asia, North Africa and the Middle East.

Prior, she was a senior reporter at FP, and survived covering the 2016 election as the magazine’s first and only presidential campaign reporter. Previously, she covered the politics of national security for Atlantic Media’s Defense One, where she reported from Congress, the White House, the Pentagon, and the State Department. Before that, she was a news editor at The Huffington Post.

Molly has also reported on national and international politics for Businessweek, Quartz, The Atlantic, Reuters, The Nation, The Associated Press, and Newsweek International, among others, from Kathmandu, Riyadh, San Salvador, Guantánamo Bay, Washington, New York, Mexico City, and London. She and her overactive eyebrows have also appeared on the BBC, NPR, MSNBC, NBC, C-SPAN, Al Jazeera, and others.

She received her dual master’s degree in journalism and international relations from New York University and graduated cum laude from Cornell University. In 2016 and 2017, she was a grant recipient of the International Women’s Media Foundation. Wherever she is based at the moment, she will always be a Californian.

Fun-fact: She is amassing an as-of-yet-unpublished-but-soon-to-be-Instagram-sensation photo series, “Street Cats and Dogs of the World” (a working title). 

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Fatema Z. Sumar is a “development diplomat,” leading U.S. efforts to advance economic policy and sustainable development in emerging markets and fragile countries.

Currently, she is Regional Deputy Vice President for Europe, Asia, Pacific, and Latin America at the U.S. Millennium Challenge Corporation where she oversees a multi-billion dollar portfolio of U.S. grant investments to reduce poverty through economic growth in areas such as energy, water, transport, education, health, and community development. Previously, she was the Deputy Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asia at the U.S. Department of State leading regional affairs and regional economic connectivity initiatives and a Senior Professional Staff Member on the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee with oversight of foreign policy and foreign assistance in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the South Central Asia region. Specific honors include being profiled by the National Journal for "The 35 and Under Power Set" and being selected as a Presidential Management Fellow and National Finalist for the White House Fellows.

Fatema has a Master in Public Affairs from Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, and a Bachelor of Arts in Government from Cornell University’s College of Arts and Sciences. She studied abroad at the American University in Cairo.

Fun-fact: Today, Fatema has traveled to over 45 countries but her diplomatic career started when she 14 years old and represented the United States on a Girl Scouts mission to Malaysia to study water issues.

Kenya goes to the polls (again): Nanjala Nyabola and Sarah Jackson break it down

As always, we turn to our brilliant FPI fellows to explain what's happening around the world. As Kenya braces for a rocky presidential rerun, Nanjala Nyabola and Sarah Jackson catch us up to speed on unprecedented uncertainty in the country. 

FPI: Why is a reelection being held in Kenya?

Sarah: The fresh election was ordered by the Supreme Court on 1 September when it nullified the presidential result from a series of elections held on 8 August. In its groundbreaking ruling - the first of its kind in Africa - the Supreme Court said the August poll which the electoral commission had declared that President Uhuru Kenyatta won, was marred by illegalities and irregularities.

Nanajala: It’s worth recalling at this stage that except for the 2002 election and the 2007 election which resulted in indictments for Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy William Ruto at the International Criminal Court, every presidential election in Kenya since 1992 has triggered an election petition. After every one of these rulings the court generally sided with the incumbent through some bad law in some decisions like the 1992 decision. So it was a huge surprise around the world when the Supreme Court agreed with Odinga and his co-petitioners – that the Independent Elections and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) had broken the election law so many times in the lead up to the election that it was impossible to accept the electoral result. The election law says that if a presidential election result is invalidated by the Supreme Court, the elections commission has 60 days to organize a new election because the invalidated election basically didn’t happen. So the Commission has until October 31 to do so, and they selected October 26.

FPI: Roselyn Akombe, a senior member of Kenya's electoral commission, fled to the US amid death threats. What does this say about the current political environment?

Sarah: Akombe fled Kenya via Dubai where she had gone to inspect the printing of ballot papers for the forthcoming election. She said she had left due to death threats, but did not give specific details. The political environment in Kenya at the moment is tense. The ruling party wants the polls to go ahead on October 26, while the opposition wanted it delayed by 90 days to allow for a more credible process, and has threatened protests.

Nanjala: It confirms what everyone already knows – that the stakes are high and that there is a lot of backroom movement that’s happening. Akombe’s flight is not unreasonable. On August 6, two days before the August 8 election, her colleague, acting Head of ICT at the Commission was tortured and killed. His murder is yet to be solved. She chose her peace over pushing through despite the tremendous risk. Still, it’s important to note that so far, much of the anxiety has been contained in the political plane. Any election violence that has happened in Kenya since Msando’s murder has been as a result of police violently responding to protesters – which is qualitatively different from what happened in 2007. Day to day life in Kenya continues.  

FPI: In 2007, Kenya suffered widespread violence in the aftermath of elections. Is there a potential for violence to erupt again?

Sarah: There is a likelihood of violence at various junctures in the election process. Police are likely to violently break up opposition protests this week against the 26 October date; they may also clash with protesters on election day, as well as after. Police have heavily deployed in the Nyanza region where opposition leader Raila Odinga hails from amid opposition attempts to prevent the election from taking place there. This increases the likelihood of violent confrontations. 

Nanjala: I don’t think constantly referring back to election violence in 2007 is a useful analytical framework – there’s always potential for violence anywhere, and it’s really important to keep a sense of perspective. Ultimately, Kenya in 2017 is not Kenya in 2007.

2007 represented a very unique political moment – in the heels of a near perfect 2002 election and a hotly contested constitutional referendum, expectations were unbelievably high. And the abuses of the electoral system were more flagrant than had ever been seen up to that point. Much of the early protest in 2008 was spontaneous because people believed they had been wronged Today, Kenyan voters have changed considerably. The size of protests called by both the opposition and the ruling coalition is an indication that sadly voters are more disillusioned and apathetic and less invested in participating in the hullabaloo, which in the case of a country where only football probably dominates more conversations might be a good thing that prevents events from spiraling out of control.

FPI: How would Kenyatta's continued presence impact the lives of Kenyans? 

NanjalaUhuru Kenyatta’s presidency has been bad for civil society and the media and the rights and freedoms associated with them, and so many people within these sectors are nervous about him winning again. After August 11, one of the first things the NGO coordination board did was seek the de-registration of two local civil society groups. They also detained Maina Kiai, UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial executions at the airport when he tried to return to his job in New York. The administration has also promised to deregister the International Development Law Organization, an international treaty that supports the judiciary and other ministries. And now he and members of his campaigns team have promised to turn their wrath onto the judiciary for delivering an unfavorable judgment. These are not decisions that may immediately affect members of the public in the way that a devaluation of the shilling might. In the long run, however, they compromise the quality of life for the average Kenyan because they constrict the space available for civic discourse in the public sphere. They make it harder for people to exist fully in public.

But the Kenyatta presidency has also been bad for the economy. State borrowing has gone through the roof. A number of corruption scandals have rocked the country every few months. They were so numerous, that in 2015, hours after then President Obama’s visit to Kenya, Kenya’s auditor general announced that the government could not account for up to 1/3 of the country’s budget. There has been significant labor unrest in the public sector – long, costly strikes in healthcare and education that have crippled these two key state provided services. Few significant gains in the war against Al-Shabaab can be identified even though billions of shillings of taxpayer money is being spent on that war in Somalia.

Still, his supporters remain loyal – and vocally so. They point to the massive investments that have been made in large-scale infrastructure projects like the Standard Gauge Railway and the expansion of roads around the country. Government contracts have created a young “nouveau riche” that is shoring up the many malls and apartment complexes that are popping up across the country. For the West, Kenyatta is a safe pair of hands in a complex region.

FPI: Why should the US care about Kenya's elections?

Sarah: Kenya is the economic hub of East Africa – with its capital Nairobi home to large US and other foreign multinationals, the only UN HQ in Sub-Saharan Africa, and many non-profit organizations. Its main airport – Jomo Kenyatta International Airport – is the main gateway to the region and its port at Mombasa the main entry point to a hinterland stretching all the way to the Democratic Republic of Congo. It is also a major security partner of the US in the politically volatile region, whose member countries include South Sudan and Somalia.

Nanjala: I guess this is the part where I'm supposed to wax lyrical about foreign bases and Kenya as a key strategic ally in the war against terror, and being the second largest economy in East Africa and a key trading partner etc.

I think the wonks amongst us who are reading this already know these things. From my end, I don't believe in hiding my humanity in abstractions. I believe that feminist foreign policy should be grounded in making the personal political at the global level. In this regard, I think people in the US should care about the Kenyan election because Kenyans are people, and we all have to share this earth, and one very simple way of extending empathy towards people is to make an effort to understand the general contours of issues or events that shape their lives.   

Japan's Snap Election: Interview with Sheila Smith

In September, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe called for a snap election amid a "national crisis," as concerns over the North Korea threat continued to mount. This Sunday, voters will head to the polls.

Sheila Smithsenior fellow for Japan studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, shared her thoughts with us ahead of the vote.

Foreign Policy Interrupted: Just last month, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe called for a snap election. What are the politics involved with this decision?

Sheila Smith: Japan had to have a Lower House election by the end of 2018, and with his popularity dimming and the opposition parties set to continue to pressure him on his scandals this fall, the LDP leadership, after consultations with their collation partner, Komeito, thought it best to dissolve the Diet early. The opposition parties were weak, and while there was some anticipation that the LDP would lose seats, it would still be able to maintain sufficient seats to continue to govern.

Several policy issues are also important here. The first is the consumption tax, which is due to be raised by 2% in 2019. This is the second hike in this tax, and Abe’s last snap election in 2014 was to ask the Japanese voters to allow him to postpone it in the interests of economic growth.  Now he has 11 consecutive quarters of positive economic outcome, and he is arguing that he will go ahead with this additional tax. However, he plans to spend it on education rather than on paying down the Japanese government debt.  The second issue Abe has focused on is the North Korean threat. Implicit in his campaign is the idea that only he and his government are well prepared to respond to the growing number of North Korea missiles, and to the broader challenge of ensuring a solid allied response with the United States. The Abe-Trump relationship has been critical to navigating the U.S. presidential transition, and Japanese voters understand this.

FPI: How does North Korea factor into this election? Are different approaches to the issue being represented by the candidates?

SS: Other than the prime minister himself, the other parties are not putting forward their ideas on how to manage North Korea. This is really an issue that the government can capitalize on, given its experience over the last two years in responding to the missile launches. Abe has been a visible advocate of UN security council sanctions. He has met with European leaders and Russia’s President Putin, as well as others around the Asia-Pacific, advocating for tough measures to pressure Pyongyang to end its belligerence and return to negotiations on denuclearization.

Other candidates are talking about Japan’s defenses. Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike in forming her new party, the Party of Hope, has supported current security legislation that allows Japan’s military, the Self Defense Force, to work with others in achieving security for her country. She has also indicated she is open to revising the Japanese Constitution. Both of these issues are related to Japan’s longstanding debate over its military and how it is deployed.

The other new party, the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, takes an opposite stance on the constitution, arguing that the current constitution has provided for Japanese security throughout the postwar era. This party, led by Yukio Edano, argues for abiding by the defensive posture of Japan’s military rather than for expanding its capabilities to allow the unrestrained use of force.

FPI: How unprecedented was Abe's move to dissolve the lower house in order to make this a reality?

SS: Snap elections are par for the course in Japan, as in other parliamentary systems.  You will recall that UK Prime Minister Theresa May called one earlier this year. It was not a success for her, but it looks today like Abe’s gamble will pay off for him.

FPI: Who are his main opponents? How serious of challengers are they?

SS: The Democratic Party, formerly the Democratic Party of Japan, was the main opposition party. It was voted into office in 2009, after defeating the conservative LDP decisively in a Lower House election. But its three years in office were tumultuous. Japan faced two considerable crises: the 2011 earthquake and tsunami that led to the meltdown of the Fukushima Daiichi reactor, and the Chinese challenge to Japanese control of the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea. Nonetheless, with no experience in governing, the DPJ lost the confidence of the Japanese people, and in December 2012, they voted the LDP back into power with Abe Shinzo as prime minister.

Today, the story of this election will have two interesting themes.  First, this is the final dissolution of the DP (DPJ), as its members have gravitated to Koike’s new party and to the new liberal alternative, the CDP. I suspect that these two parties will garner a similar number of seats on Sunday, meaning that Abe was right in his calculation that the main source of opposition to his policies would be divided. But the differences among these new parties are not what you might expect. Koike’s new party is decidedly not a liberal party, and she called for all members to sign onto a realist defense and foreign policy agenda. Edano’s CDP looks more traditionally like Japan’s left on defense and foreign policy issues, but on the campaign stump, he took pains to note that he is not a liberal but someone who embraces a more organic conservatism that values Japanese conservative culture and tradition. In many ways, these parties are claiming ownership of a Japanese identity, one that unifies rather than divides.

The second theme to watch is the focus on constitution. Today, there are seven parties – many smaller and hardly competitive, and only two openly embrace the current Japanese constitution. This is a significant change from the past, and one that will undoubtedly lead to an accelerated debate over the coming year or so over revision of the 1947 document. Japanese concerns over their security environment offer one reason for this desire to reconsider Article 9, but the larger issue is this underlying identity debate of a nation that has risen to global influence but now sees its star somewhat dimmed by the new Asian power, China. Japan’s future in this new era of international politics is very much on the minds of voters, and Abe has capitalized on this.

FPI: How will the election impact the surrounding region and Japan's relationships with other nations?

SS: In the short run, this election will not seem that influential for Japanese diplomacy.  In the end, Abe and his ruling coalition will continue to pursue the policies already laid out by his cabinet. His security reforms will continue to be implemented, he will continue to see diplomacy especially in Asia as Japan’s best strategic instrument, and he will continue to try to sustain a growth economy. What remains to be seen is how the leadership of other nations affect Japanese choices. The U.S. administration’s foreign policy seems less predictable at a time when Tokyo desperately needs the U.S. to be strategic in Asia, to play the long game. As President Xi said yesterday, China is now claiming its rightful place at the center of international politics, and this will be a challenge for Japan. But most immediate of concern is North Korea, and the impending demonstration of an ICBM capability that can reach the United States.

The coming months will be very delicate for Northeast Asia, and Japan finds itself in the midst of a potential confrontation that would be disastrous for all in the region.