Voters Stick with Coalition
Jul. 11, 2016
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's governing coalition beat its goal of winning a majority of contested seats in the July 10 Upper House election. It won well above what it needed to keep control of the chamber.
Ruling bloc candidates reacted with joy at a gathering where they listened to NHK announce the winners. After a tough race, party leaders including Abe beamed as they stuck paper flowers beside winning names on a board.
Every 3 years, voters elect half of the 242 seats in the Upper House. The coalition of the LDP and its partner Komeito already holds 76 seats that were not contested this time. In this election, the coalition won a total of 70.
That comfortably clears the benchmark Abe set before the poll, of 61 out of the 121 contested seats.
Japan’s Constitution was a major issue in the vote. On that score, the ruling coalition, together with a smaller party that also backs Constitutional change, has secured 77 seats in total. Along with other lawmakers in favor of an amendment, the pro-revision seats will make up two-thirds of the chamber.
The two-thirds number is important because that’s how much support is needed in both houses to call a national referendum on the proposed amendment.
On the other side, major opposition group the Democratic Party lost more than a dozen of its 47 contested seats.
Media Reaction in China, South Korea
Media in China and South Korea focused on the possibility that the Japanese vote could lead to constitutional changes.
Japan’s neighbors are concerned the country will revise Article 9 of its constitution, the section that renounces war.
A news anchor on CCTV, China's state-run media, said the following.
''Japan's 24th Upper House election means a lot to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who is in favor of amending the Constitution."
Attention was focused on whether Japanese parties in favor of altering the charter would muster the necessary two-thirds of seats. China's Xinhua news agency said Japan has paved the way for an amendment. It said Prime Minister Abe's goal of revising the Constitution is coming closer and closer.
There were also concerns in South Korea.
"The result will destroy Japan's pacifist constitution,” said Korean Broadcasting System. “The possibility Japan will fight a war again is higher," A major South Korean news agency reported that talks about constitutional amendments in Japan could increase tensions in the region. The focus is now on Prime Minister Abe's next move.
Abe Stresses Strong Mandate
On Monday Abe stressed voters have given him a strong mandate to continue with his economic policy mix, his so-called "Abenomics."
He said, "With an even stronger political base we can push forward -- we must push forward our economic and diplomatic policies even more aggressively. I believe that's the way to respond to the mandate the public gave us in this Upper House election.”
Abe said he would instruct one of his ministers to start putting together new economic measures to deal with the country's current situation.
"I decided to delay the consumption tax hike, because I think Japan needs to kick into high gear to get out of deflation as fast as possible,” he said. “Britain voted to exit the EU. And emerging economies are showing signs of stagnation. Therefore, Japan must boost domestic demand. I'm committed to pushing forward comprehensive and bold economic measures to do that. I want the measures to mark a powerful new start from here on. The keyword is ‘investment in the future’".
On another topic, Abe says he hopes lawmakers will discuss constitutional amendments in the Diet. He said, “We have already released a draft amendment. But the LDP doesn't have a two-thirds majority on its own in either chamber. So we don't think our draft will be approved as is. How we will build that two-thirds consensus around our draft will really come down to our political skills."
NHK World political correspondent Yoshihiro Oyama joined Sho Beppu and Aki Shibuya in the studio.
Shibuya: What do the results mean?
Oyama: They will certainly make the Abe government's power base even stronger. Abe was saying before the election that he wanted the Liberal-Democratic Party and its partner Komeito to win at least 61 seats together. They actually got 70. That's far above their goal. Abe has now won a national election 4 times in a row.
Beppu: I'm intrigued. We are seeing people in some other developed countries becoming increasingly "anti-establishment". It is not good to make simple comparisons, but, it seems that Japanese voters didn't follow this trend?
Oyama: I would say people in Japan voted for stability. They seem to have high expectations of the administration’s economic policy. In fact, NHK exit polls show 57 percent of voters support Abenomics. These people often point out that it has improved business results and pushed up share prices. They hope it will help bring the Japanese economy out of its deflationary trend.
Beppu: During the election campaign, the major opposition parties were talking a lot about a two-thirds majority. Why is this figure so important?
Oyama: It is very important. Two thirds of the seats in both chambers are needed to call a national referendum for any proposed amendment to the Constitution. The ruling coalition and others in favor of amendment already hold more than two-thirds of the seats in the Lower House. Now they have that in the Upper House as well. This is a very new political reality in Japan. Abe is known to have wanted to amend the Constitution for a long time. It came into force in 1947, when Japan was under the US-led Occupation after World War II.
Beppu: You just mentioned voters cast ballots for the ruling camp because they favored continuity of the government’s current economic policy. So it doesn’t look like there is this strong desire to change the Constitution.
Oyama: You are right. NHK exit polls show 33 percent of the voters are in favor of an amendment while 32 percent say they are against it. 36 percent say they are undecided. This shows how clearly public opinion is divided. So, although the pro-amendment camp gained a two-thirds majority, it seems we should not automatically conclude that voters want a constitutional amendment. In fact, Abe and his Liberal Democratic Party did not make the Constitution the main issue during the campaign. On the other hand, major opposition parties were vocal about it. Opposition leaders were stressing that giving a two-thirds majority to the pro-amendment camp would open the way for revision of the Constitution, notably, Article 9 which renounces war.
Beppu: So what’s next, what should we watch most closely?
Oyama: The government is certain to press ahead with Abenomics. Abe announced this afternoon that he had told his economic minister to come up with more measures to boost the economy. The other focus is how lawmakers will deal with the issue of the Constitution. Abe says he wants to have the Diet panel on Constitutional affairs resume its discussions. However this is a very sensitive issue. As I mentioned, the public is very divided. Our neighboring countries are also watching closely. I think all lawmakers, regardless of their positions, should be ready to deliberate this matter with the greatest possible seriousness.