Japan: After Elections, the Prime Minister Preserves Power

3 MINS READOct 23, 2017 | 22:49 GMT
Forecast Update

In Stratfor's 2017 Fourth-Quarter Forecast, we wrote that Japan's snap elections would test the popularity of Abe's proposal to revise Japan's constitution, normalize the country's military, and push through economic reform. In those elections, Abe's party gained a two-thirds majority in the lower house of parliament, enabling him to push through his planned constitutional amendment and reforms.

The path is clear for Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to pursue his ambitious reform agenda. His ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and coalition partner Komeito won 313 of the 465 contested seats in the lower house of parliament in Oct. 22 snap elections, securing a supermajority. Rising momentum behind the opposition, ongoing scandals surrounding Abe, and other internal and external obstacles ahead of the elections had threatened to challenge the prime minister's control of the government. But the opposition ultimately lacked a coherent platform, guaranteeing the ruling coalition's victory.

The LDP secured 284 seats, compared to just 50 seats for the opposition Hope Party, led by Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike, and 55 seats for the new center-left Constitutional Democratic Party. The electoral victory puts Abe in a strong position to continue his economic reforms (so-called Abenomics), which rely on aggressive monetary easing, flexible fiscal policy and structural reform. The prime minister will also move forward with fiscal spending measures and plans to divert increased revenue from consumption taxes toward government-funded education. 

More important, the ruling coalition's supermajority will enable Abe to pursue his stated goal of reforming Japan's postwar constitution. The LDP is expected to start party discussion as soon as November to come up with an official proposal for the revisions. They will likely alter provisions renouncing the use of war as a tool of foreign policy and banning the use of an offensive military. Those revisions will then require a vote of two-thirds majority by both houses before a national referendum can be called. Abe's mandate following the elections will likely help him get the referendum process rolling as early as next year's ordinary session in parliament. In the meantime, the LDP's strong performance might empower Abe in his bid for another term as LDP leader and, by extension, his premiership for another three years until 2021.

Japan was already in a period of significant transformation when Abe took power: The country faces an assertive China, the prospect of a nuclear North Korea, continued economic stagnation and an aging population. The LDP has benefited by the continued disunity in the opposition and low voter turnout, but the national referendum planned by Abe to revise the constitution will still be a gamble. 

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