BRAVING the battering winds of typhoon Lan, the people of Japan headed to the polls on Sunday to secure a landslide victory for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his Liberal Democratic party (LDP).
Results on Monday showed Abe’s conservative coalition was on track to secure at least 312 seats, giving him a “super majority” and securing two-thirds of the house. While victory for the LDP was predicted prior to the snap election, the overwhelming success was not.
Battling accusations of cronyism and pursuing a policy agenda rejected by much of the electorate, Abe’s personal popularity had plummeted in recent months. According to an exit poll by Kyodo News (as reported by AP), 51 percent of voters on Sunday said they do not trust him.
Despite this, Abe, 63, is now on track to become Japan’s longest standing premier as the chances of him winning another term as head of the LDP is almost guaranteed given the party’s resounding success at the polls.
The super-majority Abe managed to secure in the 465-member Lower House affords him immense power to exact long-pursued reform in the country.
Here are some of the changes we can expect in Japan following Abe’s sweeping victory.
Tough stance on North Korea
Abe’s uncompromising stance on North Korea was a major contributor to his election success, and he came out immediately on Monday to reiterate his standpoint.
“As I promised in the election, my imminent task is to firmly deal with North Korea. For that, strong diplomacy is required,” Abe told reporters as his victory became clear.
Close ties with the United States and President Donald Trump will also continue in reaction to the increasing provocations from North Korea, which has threatened to “sink” Japan into the sea and recently fired two missiles over its northern islands.
Abe and Trump spoke by telephone, agreeing to work together to raise pressure on leader Kim Jong Un, deputy chief cabinet secretary Yasutoshi Nishimura, said on Monday.
Nishimura also told reporters that the pair were planning to play golf together on Nov 5, when Trump makes his first visit to Japan.
Revision of Japan’s pacifist constitution
Possibly the most significant and controversial change likely to be implemented is Abe’s long-sought after amendments to Japan’s pacifist constitution, which currently restricts its military to a defensive role.
Revising the constitution to officially recognise the self-defence forces (SDF) as a bona fide military has been central to Abe conservative agenda, which aims to restore traditional values and prioritise obligations to the state over individual rights. Most voters, however, oppose the reform.
Given the vocal public opposition, Abe said on Sunday that he had dropped his 2020 deadline for the revision. He said he wanted to get other parties, including Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike’s new conservative Party of Hope, on board before taking action.
“First, I want to deepen debate and have as many people as possible agree,” he said in a TV interview. “We should put priority on that.”
Any weakening of Japan’s pacifist credo is likely to ruffle feathers abroad as well as at home. In both China and South Korea, many still harbour bitter memories of Japanese militarism in the first half of the 20th century with concerns that any strengthening of the military could reawaken these fears.
Any revision of the constitution requires support from two-thirds of the members of each chamber of parliament and a majority in a public referendum, with no minimum quorum.
Sales tax hike
Abe has twice delayed his plans for a hike in the sales tax that would see it rise to 10 percent from 8 percent. The delays were a result of Japan tipping into recession after an earlier increase to the current eight percent rate.
Buoyed by his landslide victory, Abe announced on Sunday the government will proceed with the scheduled sales tax increase in 2019 unless the economy suffers a shock as big as the 2008 collapse of Lehman Brothers.
“Our administration has worked on fiscal reform more than any other administration,” Abe told a television program on Sunday. “In order to pay back Japan’s public debt, you need economic growth.”
“We’d like to proceed with fiscal reform by spurring economic growth and investment,” Abe said.
Given his comments, it appears so-called “Abenomics” – the prime ministers approach to economic policy that puts economic growth over fiscal restraint – will remain the preferred method to rein in Japan’s huge public debt. At twice the size of its economy, it is the biggest among major industrialised nations.
Boost to education and childcare
Prior to calling Sunday’s snap election, Abe said he wanted to use the polls to seek public judgement on his proposal for using about half of the JPY5 trillion (US$186 billion) expected to be generated from the sales tax hike to provide better social security measures. Among which was the provision of free preschool education.
The change of use will cut about JPY1.5 trillion (US$56 billion) into the revenue originally set aside for government debt repayment.
According to the Japan Times, the LDP’s campaign pledges also included a study on government financial assistance to cover the costs of higher education until students are able to repay the aid with their incomes after graduation.
LDP’s junior ruling coalition partner, Komeito, has been pushing for increased public spending and proposed making private high schools effectively tuition free – a proposal Abe has promised to consider.
The increased attention on education is part of the government’s drive to restore balance to a social security system that currently places emphasis on the elderly. Abe said on Sunday that investing in children will “undoubtedly lead to stronger economic growth”.
Additional reporting by Reuters