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Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, right, with Secretary General Shigeru Ishiba of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party on Sunday.

Shizuo Kambayashi • Associated Press,

Japanese vote seen as boost for plans to revive economy

  • Article by: Chico Harlan
  • Washington Post
  • July 21, 2013 - 8:25 PM

 

– Japanese voters dealt a runaway election victory to the ruling Liberal Democratic Party on Sunday, exit polls indicated, in a strong sign of approval for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s ambitious plan to revive the world’s third-largest economy.

Sunday’s vote, for seats in the upper house of parliament, gives Abe’s ruling bloc control of both chambers — and it provides Abe with a mandate unmatched by any Japanese leader in nearly 10 years.

How Abe uses that political power will help determine the long-term health of Japan’s economy and its relations with Asian neighbors. Analysts say that Abe could pursue a largely economic agenda, one that includes difficult but needed reforms and austerity measures. But Abe, known as a strong nationalist, also could feel emboldened to speak more openly about his revisionist view of Asian history, one that rejects the idea of Japanese imperial invasion and infuriates China and South Korea.

In this election, only half of the 242 seats in the upper house were up for grabs. Based on exit polls, Japanese public broadcaster NHK said that the LDP and coalition partner New Komeito had claimed at least 73 seats — giving them 132 total in the chamber, a comfortable majority. Official results won’t be known until Monday.

“We received so much support from the people of Japan,” Abe said in a victory speech at his party’s headquarters. “We now have to move politics forward.”

Laws won’t require Japan to hold another parliamentary election for three years, and pundits say Abe could go just as long without a challenge to his power, provided he maintains support from his own party.

Such stability would mark a fundamental shift for a nation that has cycled through seven leaders since 2006, none lasting longer than 481 days in office. Abe was one of those short-lived leaders, holding power for a scandal-filled year before resigning in September 2007 because of an intestinal ailment, his approval rating below 30 percent.

Abe says he has learned from that stint, and in his second chance at the job — beginning seven months ago — he has spent less time on nationalist pet projects, devoting himself instead to the issue that Japanese voters care most about: the economy. With full-throttle monetary easing and fiscal stimulus, Abe has lowered the value of the yen and driven up the stock market, all as companies rake in profits and business confidence soars. Average consumers haven’t yet seen the benefits — they will, Abe promises — but they say they like the ambition of Abe’s policymaking.

As part of his economic revival plan, Abe has pledged a set of reforms. .

Abe on Sunday night said his party’s real test is set to begin. “I believe people want the economic policies to give them something tangible,” he said.

© 2014 Star Tribune