Japan's ruling bloc wins big in Upper House election

Voters at a polling station in Tokyo yesterday. The huge margin of victory for Japan's ruling LDP-Komeito coalition came despite bubbling unhappiness over Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's flagging Abenomics policy and his professed goal to revise the war-
Voters at a polling station in Tokyo yesterday. The huge margin of victory for Japan's ruling LDP-Komeito coalition came despite bubbling unhappiness over Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's flagging Abenomics policy and his professed goal to revise the war-renouncing Constitution.PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

But two Cabinet ministers ousted amid public unhappiness over Abe's policies

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's ruling coalition clinched a landslide victory in yesterday's Upper House election, in a win that was soured by the loss of two Cabinet ministers.

The huge margin of victory came despite bubbling unhappiness over the flagging "Abenomics" policy and his professed goal to revise the war-renouncing Constitution.

As of midnight local time (11pm Singapore time), the coalition of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and Komeito won 66 of the 121 seats up for grabs.

Add that to the bloc's 76 seats not being contested this time round, and it has a total of 142 seats in the 242-member chamber. Together with other allies, it holds 156 seats, with seven yet to be determined.

This puts Mr Abe within striking distance of the 162 seats he needs to win a two-thirds supermajority, to push for a national referendum to revise the Constitution.

However, Cabinet ministers representing the politically explosive wards of Fukushima and Okinawa were ousted, namely Justice Minister Mitsuhide Iwaki and Minister of State for Okinawa and Northern Territories Affairs Aiko Shimajiri. Mr Abe placed them in his Cabinet last October to boost their profiles.

  • Key economic data

  • • Economic figures after the Liberal Democratic Party took power in 2012 and during the 2009-2012 tenure of the former Democratic Party of Japan:

    WHAT HAS IMPROVED

    Employment: from 55.04 million in 2012 to 56.4 million in 2015 Wage increase: from 1.78 per cent to 2.38 per cent Corporate profits: from 13.3 trillion yen in April-June 2010 to 20.3 trillion yen in April-June 2015 Foreign visitors: from 8.36 million in 2012 to 19.74 million in 2015

    WHAT HAS FALTERED

    Real GDP: from 2 per cent to 0.6 per cent Capital spending: from 2.7 per cent to 1.4 per cent Private consumption: from 1.8 per cent to -0.1 per cent Regular employment: from 33.4 million in 2012 to 33.04 million in 2015

    REUTERS

Emotions run high in Fukushima over protracted rebuilding efforts after the 2011 nuclear disaster, while in Okinawa, thousands have protested against a United States military base there after an American base worker was charged with the rape and murder of a local woman.

An Upper House election is called every three years, when the six-year terms expire for half the seats. LDP-Komeito already controls the more powerful Lower House, of which an election is due in 2018.

Mr Abe, in a televised speech last night, said his focus was to ensure "strong and vibrant economic policies" under the Abenomics recipe of monetary easing, fiscal stimulus and structural reforms. He has said repeatedly on the campaign trail that Abenomics is a work in progress, acknowledging that the man on the street has not fully felt its impact.

A stimulus package of at least 10 trillion yen (S$133 billion) is expected to be on the cards this autumn.

On constitutional reform, Mr Abe said last night that it was "meaningless to say yes or no" at this point.

He added: "I have two more years in my term. This is the LDP's goal, so I want to address it calmly."

LDP policy chief Tomomi Inada had said after the polls closed: "Our party has already submitted a draft for reforming the Constitution."

Political watcher Jeffrey Kingstonsaid the LDP won big because it was seen as "a pair of safe hands", going against an opposition which has "discredited themselves" in a botched rule from 2009 to 2012, and which has not been able to offer viable alternative policies. But he added: "Voters are still waiting for Mr Abe to make good on the economic progress he has been promising. Polls show that they want him to focus on that, and not spend time on constitutional reform."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 11, 2016, with the headline 'Japan's ruling bloc wins big in Upper House election'. Print Edition | Subscribe