After winning more than two-thirds of the Lower House in Sunday’s general election, the Liberal Democratic Party and New Komeito are set to launch a coalition government as early as next week, with hawkish LDP leader Shinzo Abe becoming prime minister.
Abe, who served in the post for less than a year in 2006 and 2007, told reporters Monday that he and New Komeito leader Natsuo Yamaguchi will hold a meeting soon to kick off the policy coordination process for launching a coalition government.
A special Diet session to choose the new prime minister will be held Dec. 26, and Abe is expected to immediately form a new Cabinet.
Former Prime Minister Taro Aso, a longtime Abe ally, is rumored to be favored for the finance minister post while concurrently serving as deputy prime minister. Aso is known as an aggressive backer of government spending, particularly for public works projects.
Yoshihide Suga, one of Abe’s closest aides, is also expected to be given a key post, most likely chief Cabinet secretary, the prime minister’s right-hand man.
On Monday, Abe told reporters he will reappoint LDP Secretary General Shigeru Ishiba, who played a large role in developing the party’s election strategy, saying he had greatly contributed to the landslide victory.
“Without winning the Upper House election (next summer), we cannot stably run the government,” Abe said Monday. “Now the main mission for the party is to win the Upper House poll.”
That contest is expected to be a true test of the LDP-New Komeito coalition. In recent years, voters have swung back to the other side following landslide victories in Lower House elections.
The LDP-led camp still lacks a majority in the upper chamber and is likely to face fierce resistance from the opposition parties in enacting government-sponsored bills.
Holding more than two-thirds of the Lower House gives the ruling camp the power to override most decisions by the Upper House, but the costs could be high if voters regard the tactics as heavy-handed.
LDP executives appeared all business late Sunday and early Monday, maintaining low-profiles and rarely smiling during media interviews — an apparent attempt to show voters that, despite the overwhelming victory, they were not getting carried away with the results.
“We won more seats than we expected,” Abe told reporters Monday morning. “So we have grave responsibilities.”
The LDP’s impressive margin of victory has left many of its executives keenly aware that any misstep could spur a voter backlash in the Upper House election.
The LDP alone won 294 seats, up 175 from their pre-election strength and far above the 240 needed to secure a majority in the 480-seat chamber.
Coalition partner New Komeito won 31, a gain of 10, giving the two parties a total of 325 seats — more than two-thirds of the chamber’s seats and enough to allow the bloc to override most decisions in the Upper House.
Meanwhile, the Democratic Party of Japan, which snatched power from the LDP three years ago, lost 173 seats, emerging from the carnage with just 57.
Takeshi Sasaki, professor of political science at Gakushin University in Tokyo, said Sunday’s election basically represented a reversal of the previous Lower House poll, in which voters “punished” the LDP, allowing the DPJ to come to power.
In the historic 2009 contest , the DPJ won 221 of the 300 single-seat constituencies across the country, with the LDP taking just 62. This time, the LDP won 237 seats and the DPJ captured a mere 27.
However, exit polls indicated that a vast majority of voters backed LDP candidates mainly because of their aversion to the DPJ, which reneged on key election promises and faced chronic interparty strife that helped paralyze the government.
“I didn’t feel any ‘boom’ of enthusiasm to support Abe this time,” said Sasaki. “The 2009 election was like that, too — there was no ‘boom’ for (then DPJ leader Yukio) Hatoyama.”
Meanwhile the “third-force” parties, the newly formed smaller parties challenging their larger status quo rivals, the LDP and DPJ, failed to win as many seats as expected, apparently due to policy inconsistencies on a number of key issues.
Although Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Restoration Party), led by hawkish former Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara and Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto, took 54 seats to emerge as the third-largest party in the chamber, the number is far short of their initial goal of winning half.
Nippon Mirai no To (Tomorrow Party of Japan), led by Shiga Gov. Yukiko Kada, won a mere nine seats, losing as many as 53 from its pre-election force.