Emerging as the big winner in the Lower House election, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe declared Monday he has a renewed mandate to continue his policies and pursue his agenda — despite the lowest voter turnout on record.
On Sunday, Abe’s conservative Liberal Democratic Party and its junior ruling coalition partner, Komeito, won 325 of the 475 seats and secured more than two-thirds of the powerful chamber for a supermajority.
In a news conference Monday afternoon, Abe vowed to pursue “Abenomics” — his economic policy based on the three “arrows” of aggressive monetary easing, more fiscal spending and structural reforms — that he says will raise Japan’s long-term growth potential.
The landslide means Abe will see few internal rivals willing to challenge him in the LDP’s presidential election next fall, likely extending his leadership and possibly his prime ministership for more than three more years.
But that claim was tainted by a record-low turnout of about 52.66 percent, down 6.66 points from the previous low in 2012, when the LDP returned to power by ending the Democratic Party of Japan’s first-ever term in control.
Abe, who is expected to be re-elected prime minster next week, said the economy will remain his top priority.
“We will keep prioritizing the economic agenda. We will spread (the benefits) of economic recovery to all across the country,” a triumphant Abe told reporters gathered at LDP headquarters in Tokyo.
Abe argued that by re-electing the LDP-Komeito coalition on Sunday, voters also endorsed his security policies, including those linked to his controversial reinterpretation of the pacifist Constitution.
Abe pledged to enact relevant security bills in the upcoming ordinary Diet session, which starts in January, to allow Japan to use the right of collective self-defense.
“Of course voters gave support (to the planned security bills). We will carry out what we have promised,” he said.
The Diet is now expected to hold a special session to re-elect Abe as the new prime minister on Dec. 24, and he will immediately form a new Cabinet.
NHK reported that Abe intends to retain all ministers from his last Cabinet and to keep all current LDP executives in their posts. During Monday’s news conference, Abe declined to comment on the report, only saying he will soon make decisions on personnel affairs.
Sunday’s victory means he is also now more likely to call a national referendum on revising the pacifist Constitution, a long-held ambition.
But Abe trod softly on constitutional issues during the news conference, only saying that as LDP chief he will push efforts nationwide to persuade the public.
Amending the charter is tough. It must be initiated by a two-thirds majority vote in both the Lower and Upper houses and then ratified by a majority of voters in a national referendum.
The next challenge for Abe is the Upper House election in summer 2016.
The final tally of Sunday’s vote showed that the LDP won 290 seats, down five from the previous election in 2012, while Komeito grabbed 35 seats, up four.
Meanwhile on Sunday night, one successful independent joined the LDP, bringing the total number of the ruling bloc lawmakers to 326, the same figure as before the election.
The total far exceeds two-thirds of the 475 seats of the chamber, allowing the ruling bloc to override the Upper House and to chair every permanent committee.
Meanwhile, the Democratic Party of Japan, the largest opposition party, won 73 seats, up from its pre-election number of 62.
Ishin no To (Japan Innovation Party) won 41 seats, down one, while the Japanese Communist Party nearly tripled its strength, from eight to 21.
Jisedai no To (Party for Future Generations), an extreme right-wing party, won only two seats, down from 20.
Indeed, no strong enthusiasm for Abe was seen during the election. Observers pointed to the lack of viable opposition parties, not positive support for Abe and his LDP, as the reason for the ruling bloc’s huge victory this time.
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