/

Abe hopeful ruling bloc juggernaut cleans up in Upper House poll in July

by Reiji Yoshida

Staff Writer

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe vowed Wednesday to ensure the Liberal Democratic Party-New Komeito ruling bloc recaptures control of the Upper House in the July election, bringing an end to the divided Diet.

Boasting the achievements of his “Abenomics” economic policies, which, other than the Bank of Japan’s massive monetary easing and vast purchases of Japanese government bonds have been basically verbal efforts to talk up the economy and talk down the yen, Abe pledged that if his ruling bloc can dominate both chambers of the Diet, politics will become stable.

“Every year a prime minister has been replaced, including me, and the national strength of Japan has considerably been damaged,” Abe told reporters to mark Wednesday’s close of this year’s regular Diet session. “You need to put an end to this divided Diet.”

With the Diet session’s end, parties will effectively launch their campaigns for the July 21 Upper House poll, even though campaigning officially kicks off July 4.

In the campaigns, Abe’s LDP aims to emphasize the achievements of his economic policies and ask voters to give it a majority in the Upper House to further stabilize his government. The ruling bloc already dominates the lower chamber, and thus by seizing the upper chamber, it can legislate without any effective opposition.

Abe pointed out that Japan’s gross domestic product started improving from negative 3.6 percent in the July-September period last year to 4.1 percent in January-March period this year on an annualized basis.

“Economic indicators, including those of production, consumption and employment, have all shown improvement,” Abe said. “Still, people have not actually felt that. . . . Our economic policies will soon face a critical period.

“We can’t lose this Upper House election. We need to get rid of this twisted (Diet),” he said.

Abe also argued that the divided Diet has delayed reforms to correct the vote-value disparity and cut the large number of Lower House seats, something he pledged in December along with then-Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda of the Democratic Party of Japan, which the LDP ousted in an election that month after doing everything it could to bring the DPJ down.

To break the stalemate, Abe proposed that parties set up a third-party panel of nonpolitician intellectuals to draw up recommendations for electoral system reforms.

“Under this scheme, each party and parliamentary group will respect the conclusions (of the panel) and promote reforms,” Abe said. “I have already ordered (the LDP) to propose such a scheme to (other) parties and parliamentary groups.”

The ruling bloc managed to pass its planned five-seat reduction in the Lower House by default Monday, fractionally rectifying the vote-value disparity, although the DPJ and other opposition parties have long clamored for bigger cuts to better mend the gap, which recent court rulings have effectively declared unconstitutional.

Asked what policies he would prioritize after the July election, Abe said he will concentrate on economic reforms to pull Japan out of deflation for the first three years after the election.

“I understand this is not an easy job . . . we will concentrate on this for three years,” he said.

Asked about his long-held ambition to revise the Constitution, Abe declined comment.

On the other hand, he said he believes people have started openly talking about a possible revision of the Constitution and said “the first stage” of his ambition has been already achieved.

Next he will push for enactment of bills to lay out details of procedures for a national referendum on a constitutional revision, he said.

“We need to cautiously discuss which articles of the Constitution should be revised,” he said.

It is widely believed that Abe wants to amend Article 96 in order to lower the Diet-vote threshold for revising the Constitution, with the aim of ultimately amending the war-renouncing Article 9 — a move Buddhist-backed ally New Komeito strongly opposes.