Japan elections: Shinzo Abe wins sweeping victory

Coalition step closer to revising pacifist constitution after upper house election success

Japan’s ruling coalition has won a sweeping victory in Sunday’s general election, taking it a step closer to scrapping the nation’s 70-year-old pacifist constitution.

Exit polls on Sunday night suggested that the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) had secured an outright majority in the upper house, its first in 27 years.

The results, amid rock-bottom voter turnout, mean that the LDP and its conservative allies could have a super-majority in both houses of parliament, the prerequisite for calling a referendum on constitutional change.

Supporters of prime minister Shinzo Abe want him to scrap the constitution's war-renouncing clause, and rewrite much of the rest to reflect conservative values.


The changes would shift the balance of power in Asia and increase tensions with China, which has issued repeated warnings about a return to "militarism" in Japan.

Japan's key ally, the United States, wants the country to take a bigger share of defence burdens in East Asia, where China is expanding its maritime reach.

The opposition Democratic Party was projected to lose more than a dozen of its 47 contested seats, continuing the vertiginous decline in its fortunes since 2012.

Mr Abe fought the election as a referendum on his stuttering economic policies. Dubbed Abenomics, the mix of fiscal spending and easy monetary policy has come under fire for widening economic disparities and failing to end years of crippling deflation.

His campaign largely avoided discussion on the constitution, for fear of losing popular support. Most voters cited the economy as their biggest concern and said they see no need to alter the country’s pacifism, which has kept it out of wars since 1945.

The LDP’s junior coalition partner, Komeito, avoided any mention of the constitution in its manifesto.

Mr Abe said on Sunday evening that it was “too early” to talk about specific revisions to the constitution. “I have two more years to my term [as LDP president] and this is a goal of the LDP, so I want to address it calmly,” he told broadcaster NHK.

The constitution has never been revised in the 70 years since it was written in 1946, while Japan was under occupation by the victorious allied powers of the second World War.

Revisions can only be proposed by two-thirds of the members of both chambers, and they must be approved by a majority of voters in a national referendum.

With Komeito, the LDP already holds a two-thirds majority in the 475-seat Lower House.

Polling day was preceded by testy exchanges on the government’s real agenda. Katsuya Okada, the leader of Democrats, cast the election as a vote on the future of Japan’s democracy.

“The prime minister uses the sheer power of numbers to steamroll [opponents] without proper debate,” he said.

The Democrats and three other opposition parties banded together to fight on a platform of defending pacifism but struggled to inspire voters with a garbled political message.

David McNeill

David McNeill

David McNeill, a contributor to The Irish Times, is based in Tokyo