by Shingo ITO
TOKYO: – Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Monday he would work to convince voters of the need to revise Japan’s pacifist constitution the day after scoring a thumping election victory.
The premier, who was re-elected by a landslide in Sunday’s polls, at his first news conference since the vote pledged to pursue his nationalist agenda while promising to follow through on much-needed economic reforms.
“We must go ahead with Abenomics swiftly, this is exactly what has been shown in the vote. We have to respond that,” Abe said, referring to his controversial three-pronged economic strategy.
Abe’s victory takes him a step closer to reviving his controversial a plan to rewrite Japan’s pacifist constitution, a move that has proved divisive at home and strained already tense relations with China.
His ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and its junior partner Komeito swept the ballot on Sunday with a two-thirds majority in the lower house of parliament.
The coalition won a combined 326 of the 475 seats, crushing the main opposition Democratic Party of Japan. Their slightly-improved tally of 73 did not include leader Banri Kaieda, who fell on his sword on Monday.
Abe, 60, is expected to reappoint a broadly similar cabinet after he is formally named prime minister again by the lower house on December 24.
Asked by reporters about his priorities for the coming four-year parliament, Abe said he would work to “instil patriotism in schoolchildren” and “offer a more sympathetic retelling of Japan’s wartime misdeeds”.
“As for revising the constitution, it has constantly been an objective since the LDP was launched,” he said, referring to a clause in the US-imposed document that bans Japan from aggressive military action.
A revision, which he abandoned earlier this year in the face of public opposition, requires a two-thirds parliamentary approval, as well as a simple majority in a referendum.
“I will make an effort to deepen understanding and receive wider support from the public,” Abe said.
– ‘Crucial phase ahead’ –
Abe stormed to power in 2012, pledging to revive the animal spirits of Japan’s flagging economy.
His signature “Abenomics” plan involves monetary easing, government spending and structural reforms to cut the red tape that binds the economy.
The printing presses at the Bank of Japan have run hot ever since, pushing down the value of the yen — to the delight of exporters — and giving the stock market a huge boost, as stimulus programmes have provided an economic shot in the arm.
But Abe has shied away from the tough reforms that economists say are vital if Japan is to get back on a firm footing, including employment deregulation and tackling the entrenched interests of the agriculture lobby.
A sales tax rise in April snuffed out consumer spending, sending Japan into the two negative quarters of growth that make a recession.
“The election result is an endorsement of the past, not the future,” said Hideo Kumano, chief economist at Dai-ichi Life Research institute.
“From now on, he has to show results in line with his promises,” Kumano said. “If he fails to improve the economy, his political capital will be reduced easily. A crucial phase is still ahead.”
The Mainichi Shimbun daily was among those who noted that the record low turnout of around 52 percent diminished Abe’s claim to a free hand.
On the diplomatic front, his election victory may temper frayed relations with China, who have painted him as a dangerous revisionist.
Relations began to thaw last month after more than two years of chill, which Beijing blamed on Abe’s provocative nationalism, including a visit to a war shrine and equivocations on Japan’s wartime record of enslaving women for sex.
Masaru Kohno, a politics professor at Waseda University in Tokyo, said despite his professed desire to retell the history of Japan’s aggressive warring — an instinct largely unshared by the Japanese public — Abe would be pragmatic.
“Many of the issues Japan is facing such as depopulation and women’s advancement should be resolved with liberal policies,” he said.
“I don’t think the election result will herald another era of conservative politics in Japan.”