Shinzo Abe: Decisive election victory puts LDP firmly in control

Upper House win a resounding approval for PM's 'Abenomics'

JAPAN'S ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) is back in the driver's seat after scoring a convincing victory in Upper House elections that gave it full control of both Houses of Parliament for the first time in six years.

At press time last night, media projections showed the LDP and its coalition ally, the New Komeito Party, winning 74 of the 121 seats up for grabs in the 242-seat Chamber.

That number and the 59 Upper House seats already controlled by the two parties give them 133 seats, more than the minimum 122 needed for a simple majority.

What this means is that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his government can get on with the business of making and enacting laws.

Mr Abe, commenting on the election results, said: "Voters have told us they now want decisive, stable and forward-moving politics. Therefore, I want to move ahead steadfastly."

As there will be no nationwide parliamentary elections for another three years, barring a snap general election, the LDP's win promises to break the cycle of brief premierships in recent years that has sullied Japan's global image.

The Japanese have seen seven premiers in nearly seven years, beginning with Mr Shinzo Abe, whose first and short-lived stint as prime minister ended in a humiliating exit in September 2007.

The LDP's success this time is also seen as a resounding approval of the Prime Minister's so-called "Abenomics" formula to eradicate deflation and revitalise the economy that has been in the doldrums for the past two decades.

Analysts say that rising stock prices have clearly injected some confidence into the economy, even if most small and medium- sized Japanese businesses have yet to feel the benefits of Abenomics, and the wages of most consumers have yet to go up.

A badly splintered opposition no doubt contributed to the LDP-Komeito victory.

The second-largest opposition group, the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), was unable to stop the ruling coalition's big win after failing to rebuild itself after its decimation by the LDP in last December's general election.

The fledgling Japan Restoration Party showed considerable promise as an emerging opposition force half a year ago. But it self- destructed in the preceding weeks after party leader Toru Hashimoto hit raw nerves with controversial remarks on wartime sex slaves.

Critics are quick to point out that victory does not give the LDP a blank cheque.

For instance, there is still much unhappiness over the slow pace of reconstruction after the earthquake and tsunami disaster in March 2011. Victims in the badly hit Iwate prefecture, where the LDP failed to win again this time, say they have not seen any improvement in the seven months since Mr Abe came to power.

The Japanese leader's call to restart idled nuclear power plants despite widespread opposition is also a potential policy minefield.

According to a survey by the influential Asahi Shimbun daily, 56 per cent of Japanese oppose the restarting of nuclear plants, even though more than 60 per cent support the Abe administration.

Balloting yesterday began at 7am (6am Singapore time) at nearly 50,000 polling stations around the country in mostly fine to sultry weather conditions.

Almost 10 per cent of voters had cast absentee ballots in the preceding two weeks. Official results are expected today.

But the first official election to allow Internet campaigning saw parties and politicians failing to connect with voters. The ban on the use of e-mail by voters to canvass on behalf of parties or candidates, while the latter were free to do so, vastly limited the potential of the Internet.

wengkin@sph.com.sg

FATE OF JAPAN'S PM HINGES ON ECONOMY, ASIA