Japanese voters give boost to 'Abenomics'
The economic reforms put in place by Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe rest on firmer footing after his party won a comfortable victory in upper house elections Sunday.
Voters in Japan have given the prime minister, Shinzo Abe, a mandateÂ to continue with his economic program, after his Liberal DemocraticÂ Party (LDP) and its junior coalition partner won a comfortable victoryÂ in upper house electionsÂ on Sunday.
The result means that the governing coalition will hold majorities inÂ both houses of the countryâ€™s parliament for the first time in sixÂ years, raising hopes of an end to the political deadlock that has seenÂ several prime ministers come and go in quick succession.
In recent years, opposition parties have had control of the upperÂ chamber, enabling them to block or delay legislation in what hasÂ become known as a â€śtwisted parliament.â€ť
While a low turnout indicated widespread apathy toward the election â€“Â in which half of the upper houseâ€™s 242 seats were contested â€“ LDPÂ officials interpreted the result as an endorsement of Abeâ€™s attemptsÂ to lift the world's third-biggest economy out of almost two decades ofÂ stagnation.
Since becoming prime minister last December, Abe has implementedÂ monetary easing and massive fiscal stimulus, but has yet to explainÂ the third stage of â€śAbenomicsâ€ť to address structural problems such asÂ the rapidly ageing population, shrinking workforce, and huge publicÂ debt.
"People wanted politics that can make decisions and an administrationÂ with a stable grounding, which led to today's result," the LDPâ€™s viceÂ president, Masahiko Komura, told public broadcaster NHK. "'Abenomics' is proceeding smoothly and people want us to ensure theÂ benefits reach them too. That feeling was strong."
Japanese media reported that the coalition was projected to win atÂ least 70 of the 121 seats being contestedÂ on Sunday. The officialÂ result will be announced earlyÂ Monday.
Abe, a hawk whose first term as prime minister in 2006 ended after aÂ year following an upper house defeat and ill health, wants to reviseÂ Japanâ€™s pacifist constitution to give its self-defense forces a moreÂ robust security role.
Any attempt to move away from the militaryâ€™s strictly defensive roleÂ would anger China and South Korea, with which Japan is alreadyÂ embroiled in disputes over island territories.
Abe also faces potentially damaging domestic challenges.
He must decide whether to go ahead with unpopular plans the LDPÂ supported as an opposition party to raise the sales tax from 5 percentÂ to 8 percent next April â€“ a move that some experts could put theÂ brakes on the fledgling economic recovery.
In addition, the LDP is the only party that opposes a phasing out ofÂ nuclear power, a measureÂ supported by a slight majorityÂ of JapaneseÂ voters. Abe is expected to push for the restart of several reactorsÂ that were taken offline after the meltdown at Fukushima DaiichiÂ nuclear power plant in March 2011.
Currently, only two of Japanâ€™s 50 working reactors are in operation,Â and Abe and the country's influential business lobby argue that theÂ economic recovery is being hampered by soaring cost of oil and gasÂ imports.
The election dealt another blow to the left-of-center Democratic PartyÂ of Japan [DPJ], which ended more than 50 years of LDP domination whenÂ it won the general election by a landslide in 2009.
The DPJ was soundly defeated in last Decemberâ€™s lower house election,Â and was projected to win 21 or fewer seats in Sundayâ€™s upper houseÂ poll.