Mon, Jul 11, 2016 - Page 1 News List

Japan’s Abe wins landslide victory in upper house vote

Reuters, TOKYO

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s ruling coalition yesterday won a landslide victory in an election for parliament’s upper house, media exit polls showed, despite concerns about his economic policies and a goal to revise Article 9 of its constitution.

Some of the exit polls also showed Abe’s coalition and like-minded parties had won the two-thirds “super majority” needed to try to revise the post-war constitution for the first time, though others only said the threshold was within reach.

Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) won a simple majority for the first time since 1989, according to the voter surveys, a victory that is to bolster the prime minister’s grip over the party that he led back to power in 2012 after three years in opposition.

A push to ease the charter’s constraints on the military operating overseas could lead to tension with China, where memories of Japan’s past militarism still arouse anger.

LDP Policy Research Council Chairwoman Tomomi Inada said that the party had already crafted a draft revised constitution.

“Our party is one that calls for reforming the constitution,” she told local television shortly after the polls closed.

In Japan, financial market players fear amending the charter would divert Abe’s energy away from reviving the stuttering economy.

Some voters who backed the LDP said the economy’s health was also their biggest concern.

“Especially since I see economic growth as the priority, I have little hope for the opposition parties,” said Yoshihiko Takeda, a 36-year-old IT company employee.

Abe had cast the election as a referendum on his “Abenomics” recipe of hyper-easy monetary policy, spending and reform. With signs the strategy is failing, the government plans to compile a post-election stimulus package that could exceed ¥10 trillion (US$99 billion).

However, economists worry the government will choose big-ticket infrastructure projects rather than implement tough structural reforms.

Abe is expected to reshuffle his Cabinet and speculation has emerged that he might replace Japanese Minister of Finance Taro Aso, 75, among others.

His Minister of State for Okinawa Aiko Shimajiri was set to lose her seat, Kyodo news agency reported, citing early results.

The loss is a slap at a US-Japan plan to relocate a controversial US marine airbase on the island, reluctant host to the bulk of the US’ military forces in Japan.

However, a big win nationwide would allow Abe to assert he has a mandate, but any such claim would be undermined if turnout in the election — which received minimal media attention — is low, as early estimates suggested. The voting age was lowered from 20 to 18 for the first time, another factor that could yield low turnout.

The opposition Democratic Party linked up with three smaller parties, including the Japanese Communist Party, to try to stop the pro-constitutional reform camp getting a super majority.

Conservatives see the constitution as a humiliating symbol of Japan’s defeat in World War II. Its admirers consider it the source of post-war peace and democracy. Revising the charter needs the approval of two-thirds in both houses of parliament and a majority vote in a public referendum.

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