Japan premier’s election win paves way for constitutional change

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's ruling coalition and their allies won a two-thirds majority in upper house elections, paving the way for Abe to amend Japan’s pacifist constitution, local media reported Monday.

Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and its coalition partner Komeito retained a majority in the House of Councillors, with both the LDP and Komeito increasing their seats in the upper chamber of parliament despite the premier’s economic measures proving to be ineffective so far.

The LDP won 55 seats, Komeito 14, while the main opposition Democratic Party captured 32, final results showed.

The Japanese Communist Party, which attracted voters frustrated with Abe's government, won six seats, up from three.

Every three years Japan's upper house holds elections for half of its 242 seats. A total of 389 candidates were running for the 121 seats in Sunday’s race.

The premier needs the support of two-thirds of both chambers of parliament in order to call a national referendum on amending the constitution. The coalition already holds a two-thirds majority in the more powerful lower house.

But Abe's plans to amend Article 9 of the charter, which prohibits the use of force to settle international disputes, are not popular among supporters of Komeito.

"We don't need to revise Article 9 in the immediate future,” Komeito leader Natsuo Yamaguchi told broadcaster NHK on Sunday.

“It’s impossible for Komeito to support a constitutional amendment,” said Minoru Morita, a Tokyo-based political analyst.

According to a survey conducted by Jiji Press before the election, 49.6 per cent of those polled opposed a constitutional amendment, while 31.5 per cent supported the move.

Critics say Abe first should deal with a faltering economy, as wages have been stagnant and private consumption sluggish.

Japan’s major media, long criticized for their symbiotic relationship with authority figures, have downplayed criticism against Abe’s government, Morita said.

“Many people are not aware of economic problems in this country,” he said.

Despite the coalition’s clear victory, two of Abe's cabinet ministers lost in the prefectures of Fukushima and Okinawa.

Justice Minister Mitsuhide Iwaki suffered a defeat in Fukushima, while Aiko Shimajiri, state minister for Okinawa and Northern Territories affairs, was badly defeated by anti-US base candidate Yoichi Iha in Okinawa.

Shimajiri’s defeat followed the murder of a 20-year-old Okinawa woman allegedly by a former US marine on the island and dealt a severe blow to Abe.

Despite strong local opposition, his government has tried to push through a plan to construct a new US military base in a sparsely populated area of northern Okinawa, which could take over the functions of US Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, surrounded by residential areas on the island.

All parliamentary members from Okinawa now oppose the project.

Iha’s victory “presented the will of voters. We won’t let them build a new base in Henoko,” Okinawa Governor Takshi Onaga told reporters, referring to the proposed site, Jiji reported.

Abe's party did not do well in the north-east and the northern island of Hokkaido, which showed the LDP lost support from farmers.

The LDP once said the party was “firmly against” a Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) free trade deal. But Abe’s government went against the election pledge and joined the talks. Twelve Pacific Rim countries reached an agreement in October on the deal.

Last update: Mon, 11/07/2016 - 10:46

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