Japan’s Abe re-elected in low-turnout polls

Exit polls show a big win for Mr Abe's ruling LIberal Democratic Party and a landslide victory could improve his chances of pushing ahead with ambitious political and economic reforms, including revising Japan’s constitution.
Japan's prime minister Shinzo Abe, leader of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, looks set to claps during an election night event at the LDP headquarters in Tokyo, December 14, 2014.    REUTERS/Toru Hanai (JAPAN - Tags: ELECTIONS POLITICS)
Japan's prime minister Shinzo Abe, leader of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, looks set to claps during an election night event at the LDP headquarters in Tokyo, December 14, 2014. REUTERS/Toru Hanai (JAPAN - Tags: ELECTIONS POLITICS)

TOKYO // Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe won comfortable re-election in a snap election on Sunday, according to exit polls.

But a low turnout from unenthusiastic voters beset by a heavy snowfall across much of the country could cast doubt on the endorsement he will claim for “Abenomics” – his signature plan to fix the country’s flaccid economy.

Media exit polls shortly after voting finished showed his ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and its junior partner Komeito had swept the ballot, with an unassailable two-thirds majority in the lower house of parliament that will give them the power to override the upper house.

TV Asahi said the pairing had won 333 of the 475 seats, while TBS put the figure at 328.

The online version of the Nikkei newspaper said the LDP alone had won between 290 and 310 seats, and was “on course to secure the two thirds [317 seats] in the chamber with coalition partner Komeito”.

Exit polls have been reliable predictors of the final results in past Japanese elections.

Mr Abe had billed the polls as a referendum on his economic policies, but the vote was seen as less of a verdict on Mr Abe’s policies than a reluctant consent to the ruling party’s growing power.

“I think Mr Abe is the only choice we have considering from what I heard and saw in the reports,” retiree Hiroshi Yamada said as he came out of a downtown Tokyo polling station on Sunday.

He was echoing sentiments shared by many Japanese. Despite weakening popularity ratings, a recession and messy campaign finance scandals, the Liberal Democrats were virtually certain to triumph thanks to voter apathy and a weak opposition.

“Voter turnout is likely to be a record low, but we still can call it a landslide victory for Prime Minister Abe,” said Masaru Kohno, a politics professor at Waseda University in Tokyo.

“The low turnout was partially due to the fact that there was no alternative,” Mr Kohno said.

A landslide victory could improve Mr Abe’s chances of pushing ahead with ambitious political and economic reforms, including revising Japan’s constitution.

Mr Abe, 60, was only halfway through his four-year term when he called the vote last month, saying that he wanted a fresh mandate for his economic programme and that he would step down if the Liberal Democrats lost their majority.

But weakness among opposition parties makes that unlikely. The popularity of the Democratic Party of Japan, which held power from 2009 to 2012, plunged after it failed to deliver on campaign pledges and struggled in the aftermath of the 2011 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disasters.

Mr Abe took office two years ago promising to revive a stagnant economy and restore Japan’s fading stature. Since then, share prices have risen and many companies have reported record profits. But the economic recovery has faltered in recent months, with the country returning to recession after a sales tax hike chilled demand among consumers and businesses.

Chief cabinet secretary Yoshihide Suga dismissed quibbles over the low turnout.

“We don’t know which party will benefit from a low turnout rate, so we think we received” a mandate from voters, he said.

“The prime minister feels very strongly about pulling Japan out of deflation and revitalising the Japanese economy.”

Voters polled in the run-up to the ballot were uninspired by the choices on offer.

Only two-thirds of respondents told Kyodo News earlier this week that they were interested in the election.

Many Japanese were bitterly disappointed by three years under the Democratic Party of Japan from 2009, which saw three emasculated prime ministers and a series of policy flops.

An extraordinary Diet session is expected to be convened on December 24, when Mr Abe must be formally named prime minister by the lower house.

* Agence France-Presse and Associated Press

Published: December 14, 2014 04:00 AM

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