Japan PM heads for election victory amid policy concerns

TOKYO Sat Jul 20, 2013 5:15pm EDT

1 of 2. Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (2nd R), and the leader of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, speaks to voters atop a van during a campaigning for the July 21 Upper house election in Tokyo July 20, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Yuya Shino

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TOKYO (Reuters) - Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's ruling bloc looks set for a handsome upper house election win on Sunday, cementing his grip on power and setting the stage for Japan's first stable government since the charismatic Junichiro Koizumi left office in 2006.

The victory would give the hawkish leader a stronger mandate for his recipe to revive the economy and spell his personal political redemption after he led his party to a defeat in a 2007 upper house election. That poll allowed the opposition to block legislation and led to Abe's resignation two months later.

After a string of revolving-door leaders, Abe, 58, returned to power following a big win in December's lower house poll for his Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and coalition partner the New Komeito. He has said he will remain focused on fixing the economy with his "Abenomics" mix of hyper-easy monetary policy, fiscal spending and structural reforms.

But some worry that Abe's resolve for economic reform could weaken in the face of a resurgent LDP. A landslide victory could bolster opposition to regulatory reform from LDP lawmakers with close ties to industries that would suffer from change.

Abe could also shift his focus to the conservative agenda that has long been close to his heart, and concentrate on revising the post-war pacifist constitution and recasting Tokyo's wartime history with a less apologetic tone.

Such a shift -- along with moves to strengthen Japan's defense posture -- would further fray ties with China and South Korea, where bitter memories of Japan's past militarism run deep. Tokyo is already engaged in tense territorial rows with Beijing and Seoul over tiny, uninhabited islands.

Abe has declined to say whether he will visit Tokyo's Yasukuni Shrine for war dead, where Japanese leaders convicted by an Allied tribunal as war criminals are also honored. A visit on the August 15 anniversary of Japan's defeat in World War Two would spark outrage in the region.

A Reuters poll showed Japanese firms generally want the LDP to win the election but worry that a landslide victory will allow Abe to prioritize nationalist policies at the expense of the economy, as critics charge he did during his troubled 2006-2007 term as prime minister.

Voting begins at 7 a.m. (2200 GMT) and closes at 8 p.m. (1100 GMT) when media will project the outcome based on exit polls. Final results will be known late Sunday or early Monday.

Media forecasts show the LDP and New Komeito are on track to win more than 70 of the 121 seats up for grabs in Sunday's poll for the 242-seat upper house.

With the coalition's uncontested 59 seats, that would hand it a hefty majority, solidifying Abe's grip on power and raising the chances of a long-term Japanese leader for the first time since the reformist Koizumi's rare five-year term ended in 2006.

Forecasts also show the LDP has a shot at winning an upper house majority in its own right for the first time since 1989, although analysts and politicians say the conservative, pro-business party is unlikely to dump its partner because it relies on it to help get votes.

But the LDP and two smaller parties that back Abe's drive to revise Japan's pacifist constitution to legitimize the military looked likely to fall short of the two-thirds majority needed to take revisions of the charter to a public referendum. Those parties already have two-thirds of the lower house seats.

Media have also forecast that the main opposition Democratic Party of Japan, which surged to power in 2009 to end more than half a century of almost non-stop LDP rule only to be ousted last year, could suffer its biggest drubbing since its founding in 1998.

That would raise concerns about prospects for a competitive two-party democracy.

(Reporting by Linda Sieg)

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Comments (3)
Zephon wrote:
A sad day for the world when a revisionist denier of Japan’s wartime atrocities comes to even more power.

Sitting on grandaddy’s lap, grandad: a war criminal that should have been executed for his crimes also came back into political power in Japan.

I doubt Abe has the guts to do the real things Japan needs – like reform of their immigration laws.

But will continue his voodoo Abenomics plan with short term gains and long term tragedy while pushing for war with the neighbors that Japan failed to live up to their WWII ending agreements with.

Jul 20, 2013 7:55pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
For decades, Japan as been apologizing for its acts of war. No amount of apologies will bring back the dead, but they may help in healing deep wounds. At times, unfortunately, politicians that should face corruption charges win elections. Politicians that we disagree with politically score election victories. That is the nature of the beast we call Democracy.

Japan doesn’t need to focus on immigration reform. There are a number of people in Japan that are unemployment. My sister in law from Japan is college educated but unemployed. This is the case with many of her friends. These former business executives decide to stay home and take care of their children. Unfortunately, returning back to the workforce will be difficult as age discrimination is very apparent in Japan.

What Japan should focus on is business regulatory reform that allows for more flexible international investment and participation. Japan’s business culture also needs to change to allow for more opportunities for social and family interaction outside of the workplace.

Jul 20, 2013 11:12pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
XianSheng wrote:
My hunch is that Abe will lay off the Nationalistic policies and concentrate on fixing the economy, with the argument that he is strengthening the Nationalistic front by making Japan economically strong again. My hunch is based on Abe’s lessons he learned during his first stint in power. He seems wiser and reformed, but since he needs the votes of nationalistic front, he throws them some good rhetoric for now. Taking on trouble with both China and S. Korea would be disastrous for Japan and its economy, and for Abe himself. He’ll go down in history as a two time loser. I’m betting he wouldn’t want to risk that kind of legacy. Well, I guess we’ll see if I’m right…

Jul 21, 2013 11:45am EDT  --  Report as abuse
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