Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is a gambler, and he won again Sunday night.
Based on early results, all media organizations predicted that his Liberal Democratic Party was likely to win around 300 of the Lower House’s 475 seats, which would allow Abe to potentially stay in power for more than three more years, both as prime minister and LDP president.
After Abe dissolved the House of Representatives on Nov. 21 to call a snap election, many political analysts expected the LDP to lose some of its 295 seats. But according to media projections Sunday, the LDP-Komeito ruling bloc could together win more than two-thirds of the chamber, allowing it to override any decision in the House of Councilors.
A victory of that scale would also see few political rivals willing to challenge Abe in the LDP’s presidential election next fall, likely extending his presidency and possibly his prime ministership for more than three years.
It will also greatly increase the odds of Abe proposing a national referendum to revise the pacifist Constitution.
Amending the charter is tough. It must be initiated by a two-thirds majority vote in both chambers of the Diet and then ratified by a majority of voters in a national referendum.
In conjunction with fellow right-leaning lawmakers in other parties, Abe’s LDP could end up securing the two-thirds majority in the Lower House necessary for constitutional revision.
Thus, the next challenge for Abe is the House of Councilors election in summer 2016, through which he will try to secure a similar majority in the upper chamber by using every measure available.
In this race, the key to Abe’s victory seemed to be, again, swing voters, as has been case with recent national elections.
An exit poll by Kyodo News showed the LDP had retained the support of the unaffiliated voters who helped the party return to power in the previous Lower House election, in December 2012.
About 20.6 percent of the respondents said they supported no particular party. Of them, 21.1 percent said they voted for the LDP, up 1.2 points from 2012. This seemed to be the factor that helped the LDP score a landslide victory.
Still, even among those swing voters, 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.
In fact, voter turnout rate was likely to sink to a record-low of around 52 percent, down around 7 points from the 2012 election, according to an estimate by NHK as of Sunday night.
“I didn’t feel any enthusiasm or excitement (from voters) until the very end,” said Shinjiro Koizumi, a son of former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi who won re-election Sunday.
The younger Koizumi is one of the most popular LDP members and was asked to travel across the country to stump for fellow candidates. He is probably one of the Diet members best-placed to gauge voter reaction.
“Many voters were wondering why an election should be held right now,” he said.
In the opposition camp, the largest opposition party, the Democratic Party of Japan, increased its seats in the chamber to 73 seats, up from 62 seats when the official campaign period started on Dec. 2.
But DPJ Secretary-General Yukio Edano remained grim-faced on Sunday night, even when projections showed he was set to be re-elected in his single-seat constituency in Saitama Prefecture. Edano is well-aware of the tough road the opposition must travel in the next three years.
“I hope this will be an opportunity for the DPJ to take a step forward to rebuild itself as the No. 1 opposition party,” Edano said on TV Sunday night.
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