Japan Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party won big in elections yesterday. The results give Abe a mandate to double down on Abenomics, but they also mean he has the supermajority which would be needed to push through a controversial remilitarization constitutional amendment. The Wall Street Journal reports:
The coalition parties, plus smaller opposition parties and unaffiliated lawmakers who favor constitutional revision, will control slightly more than two-thirds of the upper house. Revision requires two-thirds of both houses of Parliament, after which the changes must be approved by a majority of voters in a national referendum. The coalition already controls two-thirds of the lower house, which wasn’t up for election, meaning Mr. Abe has the votes to start the revision process.
The prime minister’s Liberal Democrats have long supported changing the constitution, including removing limits on Japan’s military.
However, Mr. Abe was cautious in television interviews after polls closed, saying a parliamentary panel would have to look into the matter and it was too early to comment about what he wanted to change. “Just saying ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to changing the constitution doesn’t mean much,” he said. “Without public understanding, any change won’t survive a referendum.”
During the election the Liberal Democrats focused their campaign message on the economy, promising to double down on the popular (but, so far, largely ineffective) Abenomics. Before any effort to revise the constitution, we’re likely to see more fiscal stimulus and perhaps even more aggressive monetary policy.
The stimulus program is expected to focus on transportation and childcare services, with the second piece doubling as an attempt to raise the birthrate and tackle Japan’s dire demographic challenges.
Perhaps more than anything else, Abe’s success is the result of his political acumen and the disarray of his Liberal opponents. The LDP platform was carefully calibrated to avoid accusations of militarism and elitism—common charges which have been leveled against the Party in the past. On the campaign trail, Abe often framed the military’s role not in terms of national defense, but in the context of helping people after natural disasters—an obvious reference to Fukushima. Opposition lawmaker Hiroe Makiyama was quoted in the WSJ complaining that Abe had coopted elements of the Liberal platform, such as more money for elder care, in a clever move to stave off criticism. In the lead up to the election, there were reports that some LDP candidates were amending their own versions of Abenomics to incorporate opposition criticisms.
Those changes likely will not amount to an overhaul of Abenomics, but they were enough to deliver an impressive victory. In the first election in which eighteen and nineteen-year-olds were eligible to vote, the LDP won close to forty percent of young voters and the governing coalition received over fifty percent in total.
In trading this morning, Japanese investors cheered Abe’s success: the Nikkei was up nearly four percent.