TOKYO — With a new electoral mandate and the real prospect of four more years in power, Japan’s Shinzo Abe on Sunday laid out an ambitious agenda for his government, encompassing economic revival and a more active role on the global stage.
Although turnout was at a record low, Abe’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party and its coalition partner, Komeito, won a supermajority in the lower house in a snap parliamentary election held Sunday.
Very little has changed. They return with almost exactly the same number of seats as before the election, and the prime minister said he would keep the same cabinet.
But Abe’s political calculation that it would be better to call an election now, before the economy deteriorates further, appears to have paid off, analysts said.
“The top priority is economy,” Abe, asked about his plans, told the state broadcaster NHK as the results were rolling in Sunday night. “We will proceed with our strategic diplomacy, taking a bird’s-eye view of the globe, increase Japan’s status in the world and protect our national interest.”
The 60-year-old prime minister had called the election as a referendum on his “Abenomics” strategy to revive the economy, mainly by pumping in huge amounts of money.
This approach appeared to have failed when the economy last quarter tipped into recession, but Abe went to the electorate with the campaign slogan: “This road is the only road.”
Even if it does not entirely believe it, the electorate appears to have conceded Abe’s point.
The LDP won 291 seats in the 475-seat House of Representatives, down from 295 before the election, while Komeito won 35, as of early Monday morning. The main opposition Democratic Party won 73 seats, up from 62 but a far cry from the 100 seats it had hoped for.
His resounding victory could propel Abe through an LDP leadership contest next year and upper house elections in 2016 and into the ranks of the very few Japanese prime ministers in the last quarter-century who have survived more than two years in office.
Abe — the grandson of postwar prime minister Nobusuke Kishi, who wanted to restore Japan’s honor — has set a goal of making Japan a “beautiful country” again. He views reviving the economy after two “lost decades” and burnishing a reputation tarnished by World War II as the key to that beauty.
A procession of Japanese prime ministers has tried to revive the economy after two “lost decades” of falling prices and sluggish growth. After taking power two years ago, Abe appeared to be having some success with his three-pronged strategy of easy money supply, huge government spending projects and starting painful structural reforms.
But an increase in the consumption tax in April, the first in 17 years, stopped the economy in its tracks. Japanese people, not used to price rises, simply gave up shopping, tipping the economy back into recession.
Abe has postponed a second planned increase in the consumption tax — which would have caused the tax to double to 10 percent in less than two years — to stabilize the economy.
While many voters expressed doubt about Abenomics, they saw little alternative to voting for his party.
“The LDP is not the best, but it’s a better choice than other parties,” said Hiroaki Kawana, a 52-year-old civil servant who voted in a quiet school building in central Tokyo.
Others, such as Yoshiko Hatano, a 67-year-old cleaner, said she voted for the LDP to give the prime minister a chance. “I think Abenomics isn’t going smoothly yet but I’m interested in where it might go. I want to give them some more time,” she said.
Although he won a landslide, the record-low turnout — at 52 percent, it was the lowest in Japan’s postwar history — did not exactly give Abe the full-throated mandate he sought.
Tobias Harris, a Japan expert at Teneo Intelligence, a consulting firm, said this would not prevent Abe from doing what he wanted. “A parliamentary majority is a parliamentary majority,” he said.
However, it could act as a drag on reforms as time passed. “Low turnout may limit the momentum Abe gets from the election because — as falling support for the Abe cabinet during the campaign suggests — plenty of voters just don’t support Abe or his main policy priorities,” he said.
Abe said that the low turnout rate was “a shame” and said it was up to all Japanese to create the “Japan of tomorrow.”
“I want to continue operating the Diet humbly and carefully, implementing policies sincerely based on what we hear from Japanese people, and executing our responsibilities,” he told NHK.
Getting the economy moving again has been critical for generating support for his government and for the other part of Abe’s “beautification” strategy.
Abe and many of his fellow conservatives in Japan believe that the country has been too weak in its dealings with its neighbors, South Korea and China. Abe has taken a more assertive approach — pointedly including efforts to shake off the postwar shackles on Japan’s military — but this is highly controversial in Japan, with many people saying such changes create conflict and are unnecessary.
Yuki Oda contributed to this report.