Abe win to boost stability


Mon, Jul 22, 2013 - Page 1

Voters handed Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe a thumping victory in upper house elections yesterday, exit polls showed, likely ushering in a new period of stability for politically volatile Japan.

The projected victory means both chambers of the Japanese Diet will be under government control, unblocking the bottleneck that has hampered the country’s last six short-term prime ministers in passing legislation.

The win would strengthen Abe’s hand as he tries to push through painful structural reforms aimed at dragging Japan out of two decades of economic malaise.

“A majority of voters wanted politics that can make decisions, and wanted stability in politics,” Masahiko Komura, vice president of Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), told national broadcaster NHK.

NHK exit polls showed that the ruling party and its junior partner the New Komeito Party claimed at least 71 of the 121 seats being contested and possibly as many as 80.

Other television stations forecast a similar margin of victory.

There are 242 legislators in the upper house, serving six-year terms. Elections are held for half of the seats every three years.

Since romping to power in December last year’s vote for the more powerful lower house, Abe has unleashed a wave of spending and pressured the Bank of Japan to flood the market with easy money.

The moves — the first two “arrows” of a project dubbed “Abenomics” — sent the yen plunging, to the delight of exporters, and the stock market soaring.

This, coupled with feel-good figures on GDP growth, powered 60 percent-plus public approval ratings for the prime minister, whose disastrous first turn in the top job has paled in the public mind.

The third arrow of Abe’s policy program remains hazy, but is likely to include corporate tax breaks, special business zones, plans to boost female participation in the workplace and participation in a mooted free-trade area that encircles the Pacific.

However, observers say reforms will be tough. Superannuated farmers tending tiny plots make up a powerful lobby group that has already made clear its unease about the extra competition being part of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) would bring.

Pundits say a big public endorsement protects him from the powerful vested interests inside the LDP that will agitate against the structural changes economists agree the country badly needs.

LDP Secretary-General Shigeru Ishiba yesterday vowed the government would not be distracted from reforms

Asked about the TPP, Ishiba said his party would not waver.

“We won an overwhelming victory after we made clear about our policy on the TPP,” he said.

Japan’s opposition barely put up a fight in the election. The Democratic Party of Japan remains in disarray after three years of confused governance were capped with a drubbing in last year’s poll.