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PM Abe wins Upper House election & majority

Article - August 5, 2016

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is in undisputed control of Japanese politics and gives him a once-in-a-lifetime chance for constitutional change and a revitalized approach for Abenomics.

PM SHINZO ABE, CENTER, WITH THE OTHER WORLD LEADERS AT THE G7 ISE-SHIMA SUMMIT HELD IN IN MAY 2016, WHICH REAFFIRMED JAPAN’S RISING STANDING ON THE WORLD STAGE (OFFICIAL WHITE HOUSE PHOTO BY LAWRENCE JACKSON)

The sweeping victory of Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) – Komeito alliance in the Upper House election on July 10, 2016, represented the third major win for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s the coalition since coming into power in 2012, and a vote of confidence in his economic reform program, Abenomics.

The LDP-Komeito coalition won 70 out of the 121 seats up for election, giving it control of the Upper House. And, with support from similar-minded parties and independents, the PM can now claim a two-thirds majority of the 242 seats in both upper and lower houses. The result has created a single-party majority in the Upper House for the first time in 27 years.

The elections were also significant in that 18 and 19-year-olds were allowed to vote for the first time in Japanese history.

The win leaves PM Abe in undisputed control of Japanese politics. Consequently, Mr Abe can claim the long-coveted option by former leaders to be able to present changes to the constitution to voters for approval by referendum. The most mooted change is a potential rewriting of the constitution’s Article 9, which renounces war.

Nevertheless, close advisers to the PM have suggested that he will not push for early change, commenting that fallout from the Brexit vote has come as a stark reminder of how, without due preparation and groundwork, a referendum can divide a country and produce an unexpected and unwanted outcome. So his focus during the two years he has remaining as PM looks set to be largely be fixed on further building the Japanese economy.

New Cabinet

July’s victory also gives his administration the “most stable political foundation in post-war history,” affirmed the Prime Minister after announcing a Cabinet reshuffle on August 3.

At the press conference, Mr Abe assured that they would continue to strengthen relations with neighboring countries, such as China and South Korea, and added: “Our biggest priority is the economy […] We will implement all sorts of policies to pull Japan out of deflation as swiftly as possible.” The same week as announcing the reshuffle, the government also gave the green light to a new ¥28 trillion ($276 billion) stimulus package

The Cabinet reshuffle saw nine of the 19 ministers reappointed. Senior members who remain unchanged include Finance Minister Taro Aso, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga and Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida, all of whom have held their positions since Mr Abe returned to Japan’s political helm in 2012.

Political allies and rising stars in the coalition were given a chance to shine, with promotions including Iomomi Inada’s appointment as Japan’s new Defense Minister making her the most senior woman in the cabinet; she is also being tipped as a possible candidate to succeed Mr Abe as Prime Minister in the future.

A Kyodo News poll carried out July’s elections showed that the economy is by far the overarching issue that the respondents want the PM to address – far above constitutional reform.

And some of his new appointments to the Cabinet – such as close ally Hiroshige Seko as Minister for the Economy, Trade and Industry, public works advocate Toshihiro Nikai as LDP Secretary-General, and Kozo Yamamoto (a politician credited with persuading Mr Abe to push for monetary stimulus) as Minister for Regional Revitalization – suggest that strengthening the economy is indeed at the forefront of the PM’s mind and in synch with the electorate’s priorities. 

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