Japan’s Abe wins elections, calls for economic reform
Japanese PM Shinzo Abe’s (2nd R) ruling coalition won a solid majority in the upper house of the Parliament, gaining control of both chambers. However, Abe’s victory was shadowed by a low voter turnout as only 52 percent of eligible voters cast ballots, the third lowest turnout since the end of World War II. REUTERS photoJapanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s ruling coalition won a solid majority in the upper house of Parliament, gaining control of both chambers and a mandate to press ahead with difficult economic reforms.
Based on preliminary results collated by local media, Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and its coalition partner, New Komeito, won a combined 76 seats, giving them a total of 133 seats in the upper house, 11 more than the 122 needed for a majority.
The LDP won 65 seats, which together with the 50 it held before the elections gives it 115, short of an outright majority. The main opposition Democratic Party of Japan, which fell from power in December 2012 elections, lost nearly 27 seats. However, voter turnout was low, suggesting a lack of public enthusiasm. According to Kyodo News agency, 52 percent of eligible voters cast ballots, the third-lowest turnout since the end of World War II.
The win is an endorsement of the LDP’s “Abenomics” program, which has helped spark a tentative economic recovery in Japan. It is also a vindication for Abe, who lost upper house elections in 2007 during his previous stint as prime minister.
“We’ve won the public’s support for decisive and stable politics so that we can pursue our economic policies, and we will make sure to live up to the expectations,” Abe told public broadcaster NHK late July 21 after he was projected to win based on exit polls and early results.
Controlling both houses of Parliament has been an elusive goal in recent years. A divided Parliament has had difficulty passing legislation, and voters fed up with the gridlock and high leadership turnover appeared willing to opt for the perceived safety of the LDP, which has ruled Japan for most of the post-World War II era.
Abe said voters supported the LDP to push his party’s economic policies and said it would be the government’s top priority. “Now that we got rid of the twisted Parliament, the LDP is going to face a test of whether we can push forward the economic policies so that the people can really feel the effect on their lives,” Abe told NHK. However, observers say reforms will be tough and Abe’s detractors fear Abenomics is a Trojan Horse aimed at securing the hawkish premier enough power to implement his conservative social agenda. They fear this will mean a loosening of Japan’s constitutional commitment to pacifism, a boosting of the military and a more strident tone in already-strained relations with China and South Korea, both of whom have territorial disputes with Tokyo.
Abe is moving toward security policy changes that mark a big shift in a country that has prided itself on pacifist ideals even as it built up a military bigger than Britain’s. Among those changes are an expected reinterpretation of the Constitution to end a self-imposed ban on exercising the right of collective self-defense, or aiding an ally under attack, such as if an unpredictable North Korea launched a missile attack on security ally the U.S.
Another is a review of defense policies that include a consideration of acquiring the capability to attack enemy bases when an attack is imminent and no other options exist, and the creation of a Marines division to protect remote islands such as those at the core of a territorial row with China. Abe is also unlikely to abandon his long-term goal of revising the 1947 Constitution, drafted by U.S. occupation forces after Japan’s defeat and never altered since.
Shares up on election win
Japanese stocks led Asian markets higher and gold reached a one-month high of $1,322.50 an ounce, continuing to recover from last month’s slide to a three-year low around $1,180.71, just after Abe’s big election win. Most other Asian share markets were modestly higher. European shares were seen opening higher. The yen has also risen against the dollar and the euro.