Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) has roared back into Parliament with a thumping victory in a general election that could give him four more years at the helm.
With the opposition unable to mount a credible challenge, the LDP easily took 286 of the 475 Lower House seats at stake in Sunday’s snap election, based on projections by public broadcaster NHK. At press time, the two-party coalition comprising the LDP and the smaller Komeito was expected to clinch two-thirds of the seats in the Lower House, which will allow it to override decisions by the Upper House – even enact laws rejected by the upper chamber.
Mr Abe had billed the election as a referendum on his Abenomics growth formula: a blend of loose monetary policy, government spending and structural reforms. He said on Saturday night that his party’s victory represented a vote of confidence in his policies over the past two years.
“But we will not be conceited and will carefully explain our policies as we proceed to implement them,” he said.
Although most voters feel they have not benefited from Abenomics, many were forced to vote for the LDP anyway as the largest opposition party, the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), offered no alternative economic vision.
Said one elderly voter who declined to be named: “I don’t like the LDP candidate in my ward. Nor do I like the DPJ one. What’s left is a communist party candidate. So I reluctantly voted for the LDP.”
The renewed mandate gives Mr Abe a freer hand to not only manage the economy but also pursue unpopular policies. He wants to restart idled nuclear power plants and give Japan’s de facto military the right to collective self-defence and perhaps, eventually, a greater regional security role.
He has also long eyed a revision of the country’s war-renouncing Constitution. Internationally, the prospect of Japan not having “revolving-door governments” for a few more years at least will raise the country’s credibility, allowing it to carve out a larger political role both regionally and globally.
As expected, Mr Abe kept his own seat with ease. Scandal-tainted former trade minister Yukio Obuchi also retained her seat with ease, but former justice minister Midori Matsushima kept hers only with some difficulty.
DPJ president Banri Kaieda suffered the indignity of losing to his LDP rival in his central Tokyo ward, putting his leadership of the party in doubt. At press time, it was not clear whether Mr Kaieda was able to sneak back into Parliament through his party’s proportional representation slate, which is permitted under Japan’s election law.
Averting a double debacle, DPJ secretary-general Yukio Edano succeeded in retaining his seat after a close fight.
On Sunday, nearly 1,200 candidates ran in 295 single-seat wards and vied for 180 proportional representation seats. Japanese news agency Jiji Press estimated voter turnout at 52.32 per cent, seven points below the record low seen in the 2012 election – reflecting the general lack of interest in this election, given the paucity of electoral choices and the lack of urgent issues.
Record snowfalls in northern Japan and on the Japan Sea side of the main Honshu island might have deterred, if not prevented, many Japanese from going to polling stations as well.
Absentee votes were 9 per cent higher than in 2012. Some 13 million Japanese, or about 12.6 per cent of all eligible voters, cast absentee ballots before election day.