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Despite poll win, economy trumps nationalist goal

Abe not in hurry to amend Constitution

by Ayako Mie

Staff Writer

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe pledged Monday to stay focused on efforts to revive Japan’s moribund economy and to not aggressively pursue his goal of amending the pacifist Constitution, even though his Liberal Democratic Party-New Komeito bloc now controls the Diet.

Speaking to reporters a day after the LDP and New Komeito secured an Upper House majority in Sunday’s election, Abe said, “Throughout the election campaign, I repeated that beating deflation is the foremost priority for Japan, and the voters endorsed that goal.

“It is not easy to steer Japan out of 15 years of deflation, but we will not have a sound welfare system, national security or diplomacy, unless we have a strong economy.”

Since the LDP returned to power in the Lower House election last year, Abe has been pounding away at his “Abenomics” plan of traditional fiscal spending, radical monetary easing and reform promises to get voters to help it end the opposition camp’s hold on the Upper House.

Abe said he will work to flesh out his economic growth strategies during an extraordinary Diet session slated to start in October, and aim to pass bills that aim to improve industrial competitiveness by drafting corporate tax breaks to expedite capital investment.

Voters Sunday handed the ruling party the largest portion of Upper House seats, 65, giving Abe a chance to build a stable government — something Japan hasn’t seen for some seven years.

Together with the 11 seats won by New Komeito, the ruling bloc now has a majority of 135 seats in the 242-seat chamber, allowing it to appoint the heads of all standing committees, dealing a further blow to the opposition camp.

LDP candidates fared well in the electoral districts, bagging 47 of the 49 seats up for grabs. Conspicuous losses included the Iwate prefectural district, which Tatsuo Hirano, a former reconstruction minister for the Democratic Party of Japan, won as an independent, and the seat in Okinawa, where independent Kazuko Itokazu beat an LDP candidate by opposing the party-backed plan to replace U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma with a new airstrip to be built farther north on Okinawa Island, on the coastal district of Henoko next to Camp Schwab.

Overall voter support, however, was not enough to give the ruling coalition a two-thirds majority, which it would need if it planned to revise any clause in the Constitution before an amendment is put to a national referendum, as stipulated under Article 96.

Abe aims to revise the article so it only requires a simple majority of 51 percent, ultimately so he can revise war-renouncing Article 9 with a simple coin flip vote.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said Sunday that the time has come to have a realistic discussion on revising the Constitution. Abe said he will start the process by first lowering the voting age for national referendums to 18 from 20, as he acknowledged that his party lacks enough public support.

Abe said he first needs to get two-thirds of the voters to support an amendment.

The election results did not give the LDP the strength to pursue the constitutional revision. And New Komeito, backed by the pacifist lay Buddhist group Soka Gakkai, opposes watering down Article 96 as that step could make it much easier to amend sensitive Article 9.

Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Restoration Party), which supports Abe’s view on the Constitution, has only nine seats in the lower chamber. Your Party, which now has 18 seats, originally backed Abe’s goal but now refuses to cooperate with the LDP.

Abe is expected to expedite talks on allowing Japan to engage in collective self-defense, a goal he pushed during his first stint as a prime minister in 2006 but is restricted by Article 9.