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Japan’s Abe storms to ‘super-majority’ vote snap poll win

  • Written by Miwa Suzuki, Richard Carter
  • Published in World
  • Read: 423

TOKYO -- Prime Minister Shinzo Abe stormed to a landslide “super-majority” in snap Japanese elections,
near complete projections showed Monday, with the hardline nationalist immediately pledging to “deal
firmly” with North Korea.

Abe’s conservative coalition is on track to win at least 312 seats with only a handful left to
call, according to public broadcaster NHK, giving him a coveted two-thirds majority in the lower house
of parliament.
    
That will allow him to pursue his cherished goal of proposing changes to the country’s pacifist
constitution to beef up the status of the military, which is effectively restricted to self-defense.
    
Abe, 63, is now on course to become Japan’s longest-serving premier, winning a fresh term at
the helm of the world’s third-biggest economy and key US regional ally.
    
The hawkish prime minister said the crushing election victory had hardened his resolve to deal
with the crisis in North Korea, which has threatened to “sink” Japan into the sea and fired two
missiles over its northern islands.
    
“As I promised in the election, my imminent task is to firmly deal with North Korea. For that,
strong diplomacy is required,” stressed Abe, who has courted both US President Donald Trump and Russian
President Vladimir Putin.

‘Some concerns’ about Abe
    
However, while local media acknowledged what was described as a “landslide” victory, many
chalked up Abe’s win to a weak and ineffective opposition and urged caution.
    
“The voters didn’t think the opposition parties were capable of running a government... they
chose Prime Minister Abe, who is at least better, even if they had some concerns about the ruling
coalition,” said the Nikkei daily.
    
The Asahi newspaper said: “The Abe brand is not as strong as it was before. There are some
signs that voters are seeking a change in the situation whereby Abe is the only decent option.”
    
“Winning an election in a democracy doesn’t give the winner carte-blanche and he would be
overconfident if he thought people were satisfied with the past five years of government management,”
said the paper.
    
According to an exit poll by Kyodo News on Sunday, 51 percent of voters said they do not trust
Abe with 44 percent saying they did.
    
Turnout was expected to be only a fraction higher than all-time low set in the 2014 election
and was boosted largely by people voting early to avoid a typhoon, which smashed into Japan on election
day.
    
The opposition Party of Hope, formed only weeks before the election by the popular Tokyo
Governor Yuriko Koike, suffered a drubbing. It won just 49 seats according to the NHK projections.
    
A chastened Koike, speaking thousands of kilometres away in Paris where she was attending an
event in her capacity as leader of the world’s biggest city, said it was a “very severe result” for
which she took full responsibility.
    
The new centre-left Constitutional Democratic Party out-performed Koike’s new group but still
trailed far behind Abe with 54 seats.
    
“People are reluctant about Prime Minister Abe, but then who would you turn to? There is no
one,” said Naoto Nonaka, professor at Gakushuin University in Tokyo.

‘Deepen constitution debate’
    
Abe, who has in the past been criticised for an arrogant attitude towards voters, vowed to face
the challenge posed by the victory “humbly.”
    
He struck a cautious note on possible revisions to the US-imposed constitution, saying that he
would “deepen” debate in parliament on the divisive issue but not seek to ram anything through.
    
“I don’t plan to propose (changes) via the ruling bloc alone. We’ll make efforts to gain
support from as many people as possible.”
    
Any changes to the document must be ratified by both chambers of parliament and then in a
referendum, with surveys showing voters are split on the topic.
    
Many voters stressed that the economy is their biggest concern, as the prime minister’s
trademark “Abenomics” strategy of ultra-loose monetary policy and huge government spending has failed
to rekindle the former Asian powerhouse.