Shot in the arm

Results of the election to Japan’s upper house of Parliament will evoke a sigh of relief from its prime minister, Shinzo Abe. His party, the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), has won by an impressive margin. The LDP already holds a commanding majority in the lower house. It has now wrested control of the upper house too. This will enable Abe to push through more sweeping domestic and foreign policy reforms. This is the first time in six years that a prime minister will control both houses of Parliament in Japan. He seems set now to enjoy a full-four year term. This is no small achievement in Japan, where governments have collapsed with shocking frequency and prime ministers unseated even before they could settle down in office. 

Japan can look forward to a period of political stability. Having firmed his grip on the steering wheel for the next three years at least, Abe can focus on implementing reforms to revive the repeatedly recession-hit economy. There is public support for ‘Abenomics’ in Japan and Abe can expect its implementation to go smoothly. Pressing ahead with other pet projects is likely to be more problematic. Abe is keen to restart Japan’s idle nuclear reactors, a move that is unpopular with the public. Also of concern is his commitment to revising Japan’s pacifist constitution.  A hawk, Abe has spoken of amending Article 9 of the Constitution, under which Japan renounced war as a sovereign right and the use of or threat of use of force to settle international disputes. Any move in this direction will set off anxieties in Seoul and Beijing. However, there is an obstacle in the way of Abe realising this ambition. The LDP does not have the requisite two-thirds majority in the upper house. It is likely therefore that Abe will amend Article 96 first to lower the votes required to amend the constitution. It will clear the way for a future revision of Article 9.

When respondents in a recent opinion survey were asked which of Abe’s policies they supported, 50 per cent picked his economic policies. That a mere 6 per cent chose constitutional revision indicates that this is not a priority with the Japanese people. Abe must heed this message. He has emerged significantly stronger from the upper house election. He must use this strength wisely.

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