Japan's Abe faces battle on reforms despite win< >AP Photo XKAN107, XKAN114, XKAN113, XEH113, KSX101, KSX102, KSX104, XEH109, XEH112, XEH111

“We are taking the energy, power and support we received from the voters and will firmly and directly proceed ahead,” Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said in a news conference on Monday. “We still face a mountain of difficult problems that need to be tackled.”

TOKYO // Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has vowed to prevail over resistance to his plans for economic and political change, following a weekend election victory that gives him up to four more years in power.

In Sunday’s snap election, Mr Abe’s conservative Liberal Democratic Party, which has been in power for most of the post-World War II era, secured a solid majority of at least 291 seats. About 35 seats were claimed by the LDP’s coalition partner, the Buddhist-backed Komei party. That gives the ruling bloc more than two-thirds of the 475-seat House of Representatives.

This majority could enable the coalition to override resistance in the upper house, but not necessarily the powerful vested interests and bureaucrats who are opposed to major reforms.

“We are taking the energy, power and support we received from the voters and will firmly and directly proceed ahead,” Mr Abe said in a news conference on Monday. “We still face a mountain of difficult problems that need to be tackled.”

Businesses are reluctant to sink money into a shrinking home market, farmers are set on keeping their cushion of subsidies and tariffs, and voters remain wary of many of Mr Abe’s plans.

The LDP’s election victory changes none of that.

Japan could gain significantly by boosting its productivity through labour reforms and improving business conditions for foreign companies, economists say, but such initiatives have made little headway.

“Don’t look for bold new economic reforms,” said Gerald Curtis, a politics professor at Columbia University who was in Tokyo. “I think we’ll see pretty much more of the same. Labour market reform? I don’t see it happening.”

If turnout is any indication, Japanese voters aren’t exactly excited about any of their political leaders. Kyodo news agency estimated voter turnout at 52.7 per cent, a post-World War II record low and down nearly 7 percentage points from the last lower house election in 2012.

Mr Abe successfully wagered that voters would stick with him despite the recession and various qualms, however. He says his top priority remains the economy, which fell back into recession after a tax hike in April. He has pledged to draw up a set of stimulus policies before the end of the year.

The ruling coalition’s solid majority – and the four-year window before a next lower house election must be held – also gives Mr Abe space to move ahead on some of his longer-term political goals. They include revising Japan’s pacifist constitution to expand the role of its military and allow restrictions of freedoms such as speech and expression if they are deemed to harm the public interest.

But many Japanese are wary of these nationalistic goals. A heated debate is expected when parliament takes up the proposals to expand Japan’s military role, likely after local elections in April.

Published: December 15, 2014 04:00 AM

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