Japan's ruling bloc wins landslide in upper house election
TOKYO - Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's ruling coalition won a landslide victory on Sunday in an election for parliament's upper house, media exit polls showed, despite concerns about his economic policies and a goal to revise the pacifist constitution.
Some of the exit polls also showed Abe's coalition and like-minded parties had won the two-thirds "super majority" needed to try to revise the post-war constitution for the first time, though others only said the threshold was within reach.
Abe's Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) won a simple majority for the first time since 1989, according to the voter surveys, a victory that will bolster the premier's grip over the conservative party that he led back to power in 2012 after three years in opposition.
A push to ease the charter's constraints on the military operating overseas could lead to tension with China, where memories of Japan's past militarism still arouse anger.
Tomomi Inada, the LDP's policy chief, noted that the party had already crafted a draft revised constitution. "Our party is one that calls for reforming the constitution," she told local television shortly after the polls closed.
In Japan, financial market players fear amending the charter will divert Abe's energy away from reviving the stuttering economy.
Some voters who backed Abe's Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) said the economy's health was also their biggest concern.
"Especially since I see economic growth as the priority, I have little hope for the opposition parties," said Yoshihiko Takeda, a 36-year-old IT company employee.
Abe had cast the election as a referendum on his "Abenomics" recipe of hyper-easy monetary policy, spending and reform. With signs the strategy is failing, the government plans to compile a post-election stimulus package that could exceed 10 trillion yen ($99 billion).
But economists worry the government will choose big-ticket infrastructure projects rather than implement tough structural reforms.
Abe is expected to reshuffle his cabinet after the election and speculation has emerged that Abe might replace Finance Minister Taro Aso, 75, among others.
His minister for Okinawa, Aiko Shimajiri, was set to lose her seat, Kyodo news agency reported, citing early results.
The loss is a slap at a US-Japan plan to relocate a controversial US-Marines airbase on the island, reluctant host to the bulk of America's military forces in Japan.
A big win nationwide, however, will allow Abe to assert he has a mandate, but any such claim would be undermined if turnout in the election -- which received minimal media attention -- is low, as early estimates suggested. The voting age was lowered to 18 from 20 for the first time, another factor that could yield low turnout.
The opposition Democratic Party linked up with three smaller parties including the Japanese Communist Party to try to stop the pro-constitutional reform camp getting a super majority.
Conservatives see the constitution as a humiliating symbol of Japan's defeat in World War Two. Its admirers consider it the source of post-war peace and democracy. Revising the charter needs the approval of two-thirds in both houses of parliament and a majority in a public referendum.
But most voters see no need to revise the constitution and the LDP's dovish partner is reluctant to change its pacifist Article 9.
Noriko Okada, a 66-year-old interior decorator, said she voted for a Japan Communist Party candidate to show her opposition to constitutional revision. "My ballot came from despair, rather than hope. I'm concerned about the Abe government," she said. -Reuters
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