How Abe uses that political power will help determine the long-term health of Japan’s economy and its relations with Asian neighbors. Analysts say Abe could pursue a largely economic agenda, one that includes difficult but needed reforms and austerity measures. But Abe, known as a strong nationalist, also could feel emboldened to speak more openly about his revisionist view of Asian history, one that rejects the idea of Japanese imperial invasion and infuriates China and South Korea.
In this election, only half of the 242 seats in the upper house were up for grabs. According to final results announced early Monday, the LDP and coalition partner New Komeito together claimed 76 seats — giving them total of 135 in the chamber, a comfortable majority. The LDP won 65 of those seats, just shy of the 72 it would have needed to form a majority on its own.
“We received so much support from the people of Japan,” Abe said in a victory speech at his party’s headquarters. “We now have to move politics forward.”
Japan isn’t required by law to hold another parliamentary election for three years, and pundits say Abe could go as long as that without a challenge to his power, provided he maintains support from his own party. Such stability would mark a fundamental shift for a nation that has cycled through seven leaders since 2006, none lasting longer than 481 days in office. Abe was one of those short-term leaders, holding power for a scandal-filled year before resigning in September 2007 because of an intestinal ailment, his approval rating below 30 percent.
Abe says he has learned from that stint, and in his second chance at the job — beginning seven months ago — he has spent less time on nationalist pet projects, devoting himself instead to the issue that Japanese voters care most about: the economy.
With full-throttle monetary easing and fiscal stimulus, Abe has lowered the value of the yen and driven up the stock market, all as companies rake in profits and business confidence soars. Average consumers haven’t seen the benefits — they will, Abe promises — but they say they like the ambition of Abe’s policymaking.
As part of his economic revival plan, Abe has pledged a set of reforms. One batch, unveiled before the election, left investors unimpressed. But economists hope that Abe can use his political capital to overhaul the pension system, free companies to more easily hire and fire workers, and clear away some of Japan’s burdensome government debt. Japan has a “three-year window to start fiscal consolidation and structural reform,” Barclays Bank researchers wrote in a note to investors.