Tokyo (AFP) – Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has called a snap election, seeking to capitalise on a fractured opposition to win a fourth term at the helm of the world’s third-largest economy.
The winner of the election faces a daunting in-tray, ranging from North Korean missiles to a rapidly ageing society.
Here are some of the key challenges for Japan and its next leader:
– North Korea –
North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-Un has threatened to “sink” Japan into the sea and blasted two missiles over the northern island of Hokkaido in the space of less than a month.
Both missile launches prompted emergency evacuation orders but, with so little time to seek shelter, many Japanese feel a sense of helplessness in the face of the unpredictable threat from Pyongyang.
Abe has steadily upgraded Japan’s military to counter the North’s threat, saying the time for talk is over and urging the international community to apply more pressure on Pyongyang.
Adding to the friction between the nations is a simmering anger in Japan after North Korea admitted to kidnapping 13 Japanese nationals in the 1970s and 1980s to train its spies.
Many Japanese suspect more people have been kidnapped and kept alive in North Korea.
On the other side of the conflict, North Korea says Japan has not sufficiently atoned for its brutal colonial rule of the Korean peninsula through the end of World War II.
– Demographic time bomb –
Domestically, the most pressing issue for Japan is a ticking demographic time bomb that affects all areas of life from the economy to society.
Japan is on its way to becoming the world’s first “ultra-aged” country, meaning more than 28 percent of its population will be over 65.
Very low birthrates and an expanding elderly population mean a shrinking workforce is having to pay for the ballooning cost of welfare.
Despite a labour shortage, wages have not risen in a meaningful way and tempered domestic consumption, forcing policymakers to dish out a generous stimulus package to safeguard the fragile economy.
The mix of problems has pushed many young people to postpone marrying and starting a family, only adding to the demographic problem.
The government has done its best to encourage young people to start a family and called on firms to raise wages and help employees achieve a healthy work-life balance. But the efforts have not resulted in significant changes.
As people migrate from the countryside to the cities, experts predict that Japan’s regional communities will gradually fade…