October 22, 2017 8:11 pm JST  (Updated October 23, 2017 6:29 pm JST)

Abe's coalition retains two-thirds majority in Japan election

Japanese leader in position to start motion to revise pacifist constitution

KENTARO IWAMOTO, Nikkei staff writer

TOKYO -- Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's ruling coalition held on to a two-thirds majority of the seats in Japan's lower house after Sunday's general election, putting the prime minister in a position to move toward revising the country's pacifist constitution.

Abe's Liberal Democratic Party and coalition partner Komeito easily saw off a challenge from a divided opposition, gaining 313 seats of the contested 465 seats.

The LDP alone won 284 seats, giving it an "absolute majority," which allows it to control every standing committee in the lower house.

The opposing parties had clinched 130 seats between them.

The new leftist Constitutional Democratic Party won 55 seats, and Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike's Party of Hope 50 seats. 

Speaking on public broadcaster NHK, Abe said that the narrowly contested battles in many constituencies showed that "many people still have harsh views" toward the ruling party. "We will continue to work humbly and sincerely to achieve results," he said.

Abe's victory gives the prime minister a fresh mandate to pursue his cherished goal of reforming Japan's postwar constitution and to continue his economic-stimulus measures. If he wins a fresh three-year term as LDP leader at a party congress next year, he could govern until 2021, making him Japan's longest serving prime minister since World War II.

Abe seems to know, however, that his mandate for constitutional reform is not strong. The weak turnout of 53.68% was the second-lowest since the war and does not suggest a massive endorsement.

"Constitutional reform will be decided by a national referendum," he said, somberly. "It is important to deepen the understanding among the public."

The ruling coalition is now likely to convene the Diet for a special session on Nov. 1 to choose a prime minister. Abe's fourth cabinet will be sworn in that day with major players such as Taro Aso, deputy prime minister and finance minister, and Yoshihide Suga, chief cabinet secretary, retaining their positions. 

As for constitutional reform, the LDP is expected to start party discussions as early as November to come up with an official revision proposal. Revising the constitution is a two-stage process in which two-thirds of both Diet chambers are required to support a bill calling for a national referendum. A simple majority in the referendum would allow Japan's constitution to be revised for the first time.

If all goes as scheduled, Abe aims to get the ball rolling toward the referendum in next year's ordinary session of the Diet.  

The opposition parties will have to reconsider their plans in the wake of Abe's fresh triumph, his fifth electoral victory since he took power in December 2012.

"I regret being arrogant," Yuriko Koike told reporters from Paris on the disappointing election result for her party. The leader of the Party of Hope had flown to France before the vote to attend an international conference on the environment.

Tetsuro Fukuyama, the secretary general of the newly formed opposition Constitutional Democratic Party, also spoke to NHK. "We gained support with each passing day," he said. The CDP became the biggest opposition force -- a remarkable result for a party only formed during the campaign itself.

Following the coalition's victory, Abenomics will get a new start. In the coming months, the prime minister will prepare a 2 trillion yen policy package that is to include making education free.

As for the consumption tax hike, the prime minister said: "It has already been decided by law. Unless there is an even equivalent to the Lehman shock, [the tax rate] will go up."

Business leaders welcomed the ruling coalition's victory. Sadayuki Sakakibara, chairman of the Japan Business Federation, Japan's largest business lobby known as Keidanren, said the results were "very much welcome," as they would lead to the continuation of Abenomics.

The business community, he continued, will fully support the Abe government in implementing its policies.

Yoshimitsu Kobayashi, chairman of the Japan Association of Corporate Executives, or Keizai Doyukai, said that "achieving a primary budget surplus is a pressing issue" and that the country needs to present a long term road map to achieving fiscal health as soon as possible. As for constitutional reform, he said he hopes that discussions are transparent to the public.

Nikkei staff writer Masayuki Yuda contributed to this article.

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