NEW: Abe declares victory in Sunday's election, gaining upper house majority
Vote is seen as a "green light" to begin a debate on revising the constitution
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has declared victory in Sunday’s election, with his ruling coalition winning a majority of seats in Japan’s upper house.
Abe said Monday he would use his victory to push forward with his economic reform program – also known as Abenomics – along with further changes to his diplomatic policies.
Together with the pro-constitutional revisionists, his coalition has gained a two-thirds majority of the 121-seat upper house.
According to Keith Henry, founder and representative director of Asia Strategy in Tokyo, the election underscores the Japanese people’s belief that there are no realistic alternatives to Abenomics for beating inflation.
“But it also means that post-election, Abe is under renewed pressure to meet those expectations,” Henry said.
“He will need to quickly show progress on needed domestic regulatory reforms, or the Japanese people – and the financial markets – could quickly lose patience.”
The result will also allow Abe to take a step forward toward constitutional amendments, a controversial issue that has divided the nation.
Many in the public have been critical of Abe and his party’s desire to change the constitution, a move that would loosen restrictions over military activities.
In Japan, war is banned. Since the end of World War II, Japan’s constitution has renounced the threat or use of force. War as a means to settle international disputes is outlawed, according to Article 9 of the constitution.
The military can only be used for defensive purposes.
The rise of China’s military and its expansionism in the South and East China Seas, together with North Korea’s increasing belligerence, is helping Abe’s push.
It’s still a very sensitive subject in Japan, but attitudes could be changing. Exit polls on Sunday showed 49% of voters supported revising the constitution. Forty-four percent were against it.
The vote came just days before the United Nations rules on China’s highly controversial territorial claims in the South China Sea.
That territory includes islands that Japan claims as its own.
“For the first time in Japan’s post-war history, the Japanese people have given a prime minister a ‘green light’ to begin a debate in the national parliament on revising the constitution,” Henry said.
“The national referendum required to approve whatever the Diet [national parliament] decides will allow the Japanese people to finally determine for themselves their own constitution.”