- Shinzo Abe Gains Big Victory in Japan Election
Shinzo Abe is set to double down on economic stimulus and push for a revision of Japan’s pacifist constitution after his gamble on calling an early election was rewarded with a thumping victory.
The prime minister’s ruling Liberal Democratic party-led coalition secured a two-thirds parliamentary “super majority” that gave him a fresh mandate for “Abenomics” and the chance to pursue his personal priority of revising Japan’s post-war constitution.
Mr Abe struck a modest tone despite the validation of his decision to call a snap election, avoiding triumphalism as he seeks to build a national consensus for constitutional change.
“I want to put all my efforts into delivering results with honesty and humility,” he said on Sunday evening.
Aggressive economic policy since Mr Abe’s first election victory in 2012 has delivered Japan’s strongest labour market since the mid 1970s. However, inflation has remained stuck close to zero.
The prime minister’s election victory will mean further fiscal stimulus and boosted the odds that Haruhiko Kuroda will be reappointed as governor of the Bank of Japan next March.
Now in office for a historic third term, Mr Abe would become the longest serving Japanese leader of the modern era if he continues until the Tokyo Olympics of 2020.
“[The LDP] and its coalition partner Komeito have won a major victory,” said Tobias Harris, Japan analyst at Teneo Intelligence in Washington. “Abe has recovered some of the power he lost when he was battling allegations of influence peddling. It will strengthen his grip over the LDP, and silence some of the critics who emerged when Abe’s approval ratings fell.”
The prime minister promised to pursue constitutional reform via bipartisan debate in the Diet, Japan’s bicameral legislature. “We are not thinking of a plan from the ruling parties alone,” he said. “I want to put effort into getting agreement from as many people as possible.”
Aides have sketched out a plan that would see a bill on constitutional reform proposed in the Diet next spring with a national referendum to ratify it in the autumn. The centrepiece of Mr Abe’s latest plan is to add a clause recognising the legality of Japan’s armed forces. He would leave the pacifist clauses untouched.
The prime minister had started the campaign with a negative approval rating and most aides thought he would win but lose seats.
However, the election was dominated by chaos among the opposition. The Democratic party splintered into a conservative Party of Hope, led by Tokyo governor Yuriko Koike, the leftwing Constitutional Democratic party as well as numerous independents running across the country.
With 11 seats still to be declared, the coalition led by the LDP held 311. The Constitutional Democrats were the surprise performer on the night, securing 50 seats, and were on course to become the largest opposition party. Yukio Edano, the party’s leader, won his district of Saitama No. 5 district early in the evening.
But the Party of Hope had a dismal result, winning 49 seats, with many of its biggest names falling short .In a humiliating result, the Party of Hope lost Tokyo No. 10 district, which used to be Ms Koike’s parliamentary base.
In a sign of her low expectations for the poll, Ms Koike left the country on Saturday night to attend a mayoral meeting in Paris on climate change.
Ms Koike also expressed regret for some of her more robust comments during the campaign. “I should have taken care over how I play with words,” she said. Speaking shortly after the polls closed, she conceded her campaign had failed. “As the person who set up the party I take full responsibility,” she said.
Even after the Democratic party had disbanded to support her, Ms Koike declined to run, leaving the opposition without a credible candidate for prime minister. The Constitutional Democrats gained support at her expense during the course of the campaign.