Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe pledged yesterday to push on with painful reforms aimed at fixing Japan’s economic woes after voters handed him a handsome majority in upper-house polls.
Abe said victory for his Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and its coalition partner New Komeito vindicated his economic policy blitz mixing big stimulus and aggressive monetary easing.
“We appealed to voters in this election that we will press forward with economic policies. They back our position after we said this is the way to go and nothing else,” he told a press conference.
The landslide victory means both legislative chambers are now under government control until at least 2016, unblocking the bottleneck that has hampered legislation for the past six short-term prime ministers.
It allows Abe to push through painful structural reforms aimed at dragging Japan out of two decades of economic malaise.
The LDP and Komeito now have 135 of the 242 seats in the house of councilors. The country’s main opposition party, the Democratic Party of Japan, has just 59.
Voter turnout was low, at 52.61 percent.
Abe said he would speed up decisionmaking and policy implementation, attempting to dispel speculation that he might shy away from reforming the labor market and removing trade barriers now elections are out of the way and turn his attention to pet nationalist projects.
“Without a strong economy, we cannot solidify the fiscal foundation to support social security, and it’s the same for diplomacy and national security. We will focus on this for now,” he said.
Since romping to power in December last year’s vote for the more powerful lower house, the hard-charging Abe has unleashed a wave of spending and pressured the central bank to flood the market with easy money.
A hike in consumption tax next year is on the books as the first step on the long road to overhauling the debt mountain, but — conscious of frightening shoppers — Abe indicated yesterday it was not a done deal.
“We will make the final decision this autumn on whether to raise the sales tax based on the economic indices from this April to June,” he said.
The Nikkei Shimbun said Abe has an unprecedented opportunity to tackle economic reforms, deregulate, promote free trade and rebuild tattered government finances.
Abe should “focus all of his political capital on the success of Abenomics,” the Nikkei said in an editorial.
“We hope this election will become a turning point for Japan to rid itself of two decades of lost economy and politics,” it said.
Abe’s detractors fear Abenomics has been a Trojan horse aimed at securing the prime minister 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.
That position is popular with Abe’s electoral base.
“It is people’s intention to have us push for policies firmly and show achievement in diplomacy based on stable power,” he said. “I want to push for powerful diplomacy. I want to display our presence to the world firmly.”