Japan PM Shinzo Abe Bags Big Poll Win, Modi Sends Congratulations

Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party-led coalition won a combined 312 seats, keeping its two-thirds “super majority”.

Updated
World
3 min read
File image of Japan’s Prime Minister and President of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party Shinzo Abe  in Tokyo.
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Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's ruling bloc scored a big win in Sunday's election, bolstering his chances of becoming the nation's longest-serving premier and re-energising his push to revise the pacifist constitution.

Abe's Liberal Democratic Party-led (LDP) coalition won a combined 312 seats, keeping its two-thirds "super majority" in the 465-member lower house, local media said.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi congratulated Abe on his re-election on Monday and said he looked forward to further strengthening the relations between the two countries.

Modi and Abe share a strong relationship and have met several times over the last three years. Abe was in India recently for the annual summit meeting with Modi.

A hefty win raises the likelihood that Abe, who took office in December 2012, will secure a third three-year term as LDP leader next September and go on to become Japan's longest-serving premier. It also means his "Abenomics" growth strategy centred on the hyper-easy monetary policy will likely continue.

The US-drafted constitution's Article 9, if taken literally, bans the maintenance of armed forces. But Japanese governments have interpreted it to allow a military exclusively for self-defence.

Backers of Abe's proposal to clarify the military's ambiguous status say it would codify the status quo. Critics fear it would allow an expanded role overseas for the military.

Abe said he would not stick to a target he had floated of making the changes by 2020. “First, I want to deepen debate and have as many people as possible agree,” he told a TV broadcaster. “We should put priority on that.”

The LDP's junior partner, the Komeito, is cautious about changing the constitution, drawn up afterJapan's defeat in World War II. Several opposition parties favour changes, but do not necessarily agree on details.

Referendums Risky; Abe Backs Trump

Amendments must be approved by two-thirds of each chamber of parliament and then by a majority in a public referendum.

"Now that pro-constitutional change parties occupy more than two-thirds of the parliament, the constitution will be the most important political issue next year," said Hidenori Suezawa, a financial market and fiscal analyst at SMBC Nikko Securities.

"And as we saw in the U.K. ... a referendum could be tricky. So while Abe is likely to be prime minister for the time being, it is too early to say whether he can stay in power until 2021." Abe declined to say if he would run for a third term.

Abe had said he needed a new mandate to tackle a "national crisis" from North Korea's missile and nuclear threats and a fast-aging population, and to approve his idea of diverting revenue from a planned sales tax hike to education and child care from public debt repayment.

He called the poll amid confusion in the opposition camp and an uptick in his ratings, dented earlier in the year by scandals over suspected cronyism and a perception he had grown arrogant after nearly five years in office.

Abe has backed US President Donald Trump’s tough stance towards North Korea, which has test-fired missiles over Japan, that all options, including military action, are on the table.

Trump is to visit Japan from 5 to 7 November to reaffirm the leaders' tight ties.

(With inputs from Reuters and PTI)

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