Abe campaigning in the 2013 Upper House election

The House of Councillors election on July 21, 2013, gave the Liberal Democratic Party and New Komeito a healthy majority in the upper house. Linda Sieg of Reuters wrote: “Abe's ruling coalition scored a decisive victory in an election— so big that there are suspicions he will lose interest in difficult economic reforms and pursue his nationalist agenda instead. The victory in the vote for parliament's upper house gives Abe a stronger mandate for his prescription for reviving the stagnant economy. Ironically perhaps, it could also give lawmakers in his own party, some of whom have little appetite for painful but vital reforms, more clout to resist change. [Source: Linda Sieg, Reuters, July 21, 2013 ||||]

“Public broadcaster NHK said that Abe's Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and its partner, the New Komeito party, had won 76 of the 121 seats up for grabs in the 242-seat upper house. With the coalition's uncontested 59 seats, that ensures it a comfortable majority, tightening Abe's grip on power and raising the chances of a long-term Japanese leader for the first time since the reformist Junichiro Koizumi's rare five-year term ended in 2006. It also ends a parliamentary deadlock that began in 2007 when Abe, then in his first term as premier, led the LDP to a humiliating upper house defeat that forced him to resign two months later. But the LDP fell short of a majority on its own. ||||

“Abe repeated that he would focus on fixing the world's third-biggest economy with his "Abenomics" mix of hyper-easy monetary policy, fiscal spending and a growth strategy including reforms such as deregulation. "We've argued that our economic policies aren't mistaken, and the public gave us their support. People now want to feel the benefits. The economy indeed is improving," a weary but confident-sounding Abe said at LDP headquarters after his ruling coalition's victory was assured. "We'd like to do our best to generate a positive cycle -- in which job conditions improve and wages rise, boosting personal consumption and prompting companies to invest more -- as soon as possible," he added. ||||

“But some, including Japanese businesses with a big stake in the matter, worry the hawkish leader will shift to focus on the conservative agenda that has long been central to his ideology. That agenda includes revising the post-war pacifist constitution, strengthening Japan's defense posture and recasting Tokyo's wartime history with a less apologetic tone. For now, many experts suggest, Abe is unlikely to turn his back on economic matters as he tries to beef up his so-far disappointing economic reform plans. "My understanding is that Abe-san has three faces: Abe as right-wing, Abe as a pragmatist, Abe as the economic reformer," said Shinichi Kitaoka, president of the International University of Japan. "He has been showing the third face so far and will try to do the same after the election." ||||

“Despite the hefty win, the strength of Abe's mandate was diluted by low voter turnout. Media said turnout was well below the 57.92 percent seen in the last upper house poll in 2010. That could keep up pressure to stay focused on the economy. The election also left many wondering about the future of a competitive two-party democracy in Japan. The opposition Democratic Party of Japan, which surged to power in 2009 only to be ousted last year, suffered its worst drubbing since its founding in 1998. ||||

“Abe is moving toward security policy changes that mark a big shift in a country that has prided itself on pacifist ideals. Among those changes are an expected reinterpretation of the constitution to end a self-imposed ban on exercising the right of collective self-defense, or aiding an ally under attack, such as if an unpredictable North Korea launched a missile attack on security ally the United States.Another is a review of defense policies that includes a consideration of acquiring the capability to attack enemy bases when an attack is imminent and no other options exist, and creation of a Marines division to protect remote islands such as those at the core of a heated territorial row with China. ||||

House of Councillors July 2013 Election Results

2013 election results, LDP in Green

Nippon.com reported: “The twenty-third House of Councillors election on July 21, 2013, ended in a landslide victory for the ruling coalition of the Liberal Democratic Party and New Ko-meito. Adding their newly elected Diet members to those with uncontested seats, the coalition now enjoys a majority in the 242-seat upper house. As a result, the so-called twisted Diet, in which different groups of parties controlled the upper and lower houses of Japan’s bicameral parliament, has been eliminated. The twisted Diet phenomenon had dominated Japanese politics since the twenty-first House of Councillors election, which took place in 2007, during the previous administration of Prime Minister Abe Shinzo. [Source: Nippon.com <*>]

Of the 242 seats in the House of Councillors, 121 seats were contested this time (73 electoral-district seats and 48 proportional-representation seats). The ruling LDP and Komeito coalition won 76 seats in the election, giving them a total of 135 seats, 32 more than before the election. The opposition parties, including the Democratic Party of Japan, captured just 45 seats in the election, giving them a total of only 107 seats in the upper house. As a result, the ruling parties now hold 55.8 percent of the seats in the upper house and the opposition parties and independents just 44.2 percent. Looking solely at the seats up for grabs in this contest, however, the ruling parties won an even healthier 62.8 percent of the contested seats (76) against the opposition’s 37.2 percent (45). <*>

Seats won in 2013 election, Uncontested seats, Post-election strength, Pre-election strength: A) Liberal Democratic Party: 65, 50, 115, 84; B) New Komeito: 11, 9, 20, 19; C) Japan Restoration Party: 8, 1, 9, 3; D) Your Party: 8, 10, 18, 13; E) People’s Life Party: 0, 2, 2, 8; F) Social Democratic Party: 1, 2, 3, 4; G) Greens Japan: 0, 0, 0, 4; H) New Renaissance Party: 1, 1, 1; I) New Party Daichi: 0, 0, 0, 1; J) Independents: 3 1 4 8; K) Japanese Communist Party: 8, 3, 11, 6; L) Democratic Party of Japan: 17, 42, 59, 86. Note: There were five vacancies before the official announcement of the election. <*>

Three reasons have been cited for the landslide victory of the ruling parties in the upper house election: (1) the downfall of the Democratic Party of Japan, (2) the rivalry and balking among the opposition parties caused by their disunity, and (3) the low voter turnout. Among them, the LDP’s supremacy and DPJ’s downfall were shown most clearly in the 31 single-member districts, where the LDP lost just two contests and acquired its highest ever number of seats in this category. The LDP’s only defeats were in Iwate and Okinawa. By contrast, the DPJ was defeated in all 19 single-member districts in which it fielded candidates. (Following a revision of the Public Office Election Act in 2012, the two-member Fukushima and Gifu districts became single-member districts, so in the 2013 upper house election the number of single-member districts increased from 29 to 31.) <*>

The voter turnout ratio in the 2013 upper house election was 52.61 percent. This was the third lowest figure since 1945 and marked a 5.31-point drop from the 57.92 percent in the previous upper house election in 2010. <*>

Performance of Small Parties in the July 2013 Upper House Election

Nippon.com reported: “Although the Japan Restoration Party, which made its debut in an upper house election, and the Your Party put up fairly decent fights, winning eight seats each (two electoral-district and six proportional-representation seats for the JRP, four electoral-district and four proportional-representation seats for the Your Party), overall the so-called third force,which was thought to hold the key to political reorganization from now on, did not fare very well. In particular, the Your Party saw its presence in the upper house drop from 10 seats before the election, and in the proportional-representation segment it received 4.75 million votes (8.9 percent of the total), far fewer than the 7.94 million votes (13.6 percent) it garnered last time. [Source: Nippon.com <*>]

The JRP surpassed the Your Party in the proportional-representation segment, attracting 6.35 million votes (11.9 percent). Together these two parties collected 11.10 million votes in this segment, which was about 4 million more than the DPJ’s 7.13 million votes. If they had achieved some degree of cooperation in the election, these “third force” parties might have emerged with a firm foundation for reorganization. However, they competed in the 10 multi-member districts and ended up holding each other back. <*>

The Japanese Communist Party, meanwhile, became a new 11-seat force in the upper house and recovered the right to submit bills to the Diet, granted to parties with 10 seats or more. The JCP, which went into the election with three uncontested seats and three it was seeking to defend, won eight seats (three electoral-district and five proportional-representation seats). It was the first time in 15 years for the JCP to make gains in a national election and the first time in 12 years, since the 2001 upper house election, for it to capture electoral-district seats. (The JCP acquired seats in the electoral districts of Tokyo, Osaka, and Kyoto.) The Communists received a total of 10.79 million votes, more than the “third-force” JRP and Your Party. <*>

Election-watchers focused their attention on how many seats would go to the parties in favor of revising the Japanese Constitution, namely the LDP, Your Party, JRP, and New Renaissance Party. After the poll, these constitutional revisionist forces have a combined total of 143 seats. This falls short of the two-thirds threshold of 162 seats in the upper house required to propose a constitutional amendment. If the LDP’s coalition partner Komeito were added, the constitutional revisionists would exceed the threshold with 163 seats. But the Komeito has shown a cautious stance toward revising the nation’s basic law. The reality is that the pro-amendment forces face quite a stiff task. <*>

Abe's Mandate in the 2013 Upper House Election Smaller than it Looks

Linda Sieg of Reuters wrote: “Abe's landslide election victory was anything but a ringing endorsement from voters. The vast majority never voted for his coalition. Abe's mandate is much smaller than his ruling bloc's win in the upper house poll suggests: only about one in four voters gave their support. Three-quarters of the electorate either did not vote at all or backed opposition parties. [Source: Linda Sieg, Reuters, July 22, 2013 *+*]

“The opposition, though, was badly fractured, with the Communist Party emerging as one unlikely beneficiary of those who felt unable to back Abe's Liberal Democratic Party-led coalition or the main opposition Democratic Party of Japan. That means Abe may find the only potential brake on his agenda comes from his dovish coalition partner and rivals inside his own LDP. "The opposition is currently totally ineffective," said Chuo University political science professor Steven Reed. "Neither the opposition nor public opinion is going to put a brake on his policies to any significant degree," he said. "The thing that will restrain him is the (coalition partner) New Komeito and the need to maintain unity in his own party." *+*

Japanese voting in 2013

“The LDP and its partner got just less than 50 percent of the total vote, and since only about half of eligible voters went to the polls, that means only one in four Japanese cast their ballots for the LDP-led bloc. Opposition votes were split among a raft of parties including the Democratic Party, which is flailing after being ousted last year, the Japanese Communist Party, which broadened its appeal beyond traditional backers, and two small right-leaning parties both of which argue the LDP is incapable of economic reform because of its ties to vested interests. *+*

The victory ends a "twisted parliament" in which the upper house could block bills -- a state that has hampered policies since the LDP's huge 2007 upper house loss during Abe's first term. The Japanese leader's "Abenomics" recipe for reviving the economy has inspired a rare atmosphere of hope after decades of stagnation, bolstering support levels to around 60 percent. "I think that through this election, the LDP's new stance has received a mandate," Abe told a news conference. *+*

“But media surveys show a disconnect between some of his key policies and the preferences of many voters. The Tokyo Shimbun metropolitan newspaper said 42.9 percent were opposed to Abe's proposal to lower the hurdle for revising the U.S.-drafted, post-war constitution by changing the charter's Article 96, which requires a two-thirds majority of both houses of parliament before a public referendum can be held. That compared to 37.5 percent in favor of the change. Revising Article 96 would ease the path to revising the constitution's signature Article 9 to legitimize the military. Almost 55 percent of voters oppose restarting nuclear reactors that went offline after the 2011 Fukushima disaster, the newspaper said, although the LDP wants those units to get up and running if they are confirmed safe by a new regulator. "The 'twisted parliament' has been resolved, but there is a 'twist' between the people and the (ruling) politicians," said Sophia University political science professor Koichi Nakano. *+*

“But with no need to face the voters for three more years, Abe may decide to go ahead with unpopular policies anyway. "The victory may make it more attractive for Abe to seize the moment and go in that direction," Nakano said. Abe may have to move carefully on the constitution for now, though, since the New Komeito is wary and the LDP and two small parties that back revisions lack the needed two-thirds majority. "Without a two-thirds majority, a revision to the constitution cannot be proposed. We cannot proceed with a revision even if we want to ... We want to take time to make a gradual, steady progress," Abe said. *+*

Campaigning for 2013 Upper House Election

The day campaigning for the 2013 upper house election began, the Yomiuri Shimbun reported: “The 17-day campaign period for the House of Councillors election, set for July 21, officially started, with the Abenomics economic policies of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s administration seen as the most contentious issue. Other major issues in the election, the first full-scale national election since the launch of the second Abe administration in December, include constitutional revision and restarting idle nuclear power reactors. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, July 5, 2013 /~/]

Campaign van in 2013

“With the official announcement of the election, party leaders took to the streets to deliver speeches nationwide. For the 23rd upper house election, 433 people filed candidacies: 271 in constituencies and 162 in the proportional representation system. In the previous upper house election in 2010, 437 candidates ran, with 251 in constituencies and 168 in the proportional representation system. /~/

“Abe, who is also president of the LDP, kicked off his campaign in Fukushima city, promoting the positive effects of Abenomics. “I launched the policy of ‘three arrows,’ which are extraordinarily different [from conventional economic policy measures], to overcome deflation. The real economy is improving. We’ll make it keep growing with our strong will,” Abe said. Democratic Party of Japan President Banri Kaieda made his first campaign trail speech in Morioka on the day, taking the opportunity to slam Abe’s economic policies. “Did your daily living improve [thanks to Abenomics]? The answer is ‘no.’ We have to fight the Abe administration, which is destroying people’s daily lives,” Kaieda told voters. /~/

“For the next 16 days, House of Councillors election candidates will trade verbal blows on various issues including parties’ evaluations of Abenomics, post-disaster reconstruction, nuclear power generation and child-rearing support. As the use of the Internet in election campaigns has been given the green light starting with this upper house poll, party representatives also began engaging in heated exchanges on the Internet, including on their websites and Twitter accounts, while leaders and senior officials hit the road to appeal to voters. /~/

“About 2,000 people gathered in front of JR Fukushima Station in Fukushima to listen to Abe’s remarks on reconstruction of the disaster-hit areas. “Don’t you think I look healthy? Well, that’s because I eat Fukushima-grown rice served for lunch at my office,” said Abe, drawing massive applause. “There can be no revival of Japan without the reconstruction of Fukushima,” Abe emphasized. /~/

“The revised Public Offices Election Law, devised to correct a gap in the value of votes in both Diet houses, has been enacted. As a result, the quota was increased from three to four in Kanagawa and Osaka prefectures, while those for Fukushima and Gifu prefectures were reduced from two to one.” /~/

The Internet and Social Media: Limited Impact on the 2013 Upper House Election

Nippon.com reported: “Following the enactment of a revised Public Office Election Act in April 2013, the ban on electoral campaigning via the Internet was lifted for the first time in the July upper house election. Not only parties and candidates but voters as well were able to use websites to support specific candidates. According to exit polls conducted by media organizations, however, only around 10 percent of voters replied that they had used online campaigning as a reference. Over 80 percent said that they had not used the Internet in deciding who to vote for. Even more Internet-savvy young people made little use of the Internet in this election. While some observers suggested that there had been insufficient educational outreach showing voters how to access online election-related information, others pointed to the need for further changes to the system itself. “Used as reference” “Didn’t use as reference” Remarks Kyo-do- News 10.2 percent 86.1 percent Exit poll conducted on July 21; 76,836 respondents Yomiuri Shimbun, Nippon Television Network 11 percent 80 percent Exit poll conducted jointly on July 21[Source: Nippon.com ]

Campaign posters in 2013

In the middle of the campaign, the Yomiuri Shimbun reported: “The House of Councillors election campaign, during which parties have been allowed to use the Internet for the first time, has entered its final stage. While the Liberal Democratic Party is seeing a good response to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s economic policies on social media such as Facebook and Twitter, opposition parties are trying to catch up by increasing direct interaction with voters online. The LDP’s official Facebook page has received more than 40,000 likes, far more than other political parties. The party has also many Twitter followers and contacts on Line, a free messaging application for smartphones. An analysis of Internet data conducted by the LDP suggests that when Abe speaks about his Abenomics economic policies during televised debates, there is a spike in positive feedback on the party’s social media sites. The LDP speculates that since Abe’s Facebook page and its official website are linked, the prime minister’s high approval rating spills over to boost interest in the party’s sites. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun. July 15, 2013]

New Komeito has the highest number of Line contacts among parties, with more than 100,000. The party uses the application to distribute information such as the scheduling of Komeito executives’ speeches or TV appearances. Meanwhile, many opposition parties are trailing behind the ruling coalition where social media is concerned, though they are implementing their own ideas to broaden their support bases. Shortly before the campaign started, the Democratic Party of Japan asked its Line contacts a series of questions such as “What’s your idea of favorable working conditions?” and “Is the election heating up in the area where you live?” The party said it received 3,000 to 6,000 responses each time it sent a question, far more then expected. The responses were separated according to users’ districts of residence and analyzed before being sent to each candidate’s campaign headquarters. They are intended to help candidates optimize their campaigns.

Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Restoration Party) relies heavily on the Twitter account of party coleader Toru Hashimoto, who has 1.1 million followers, one of the highest figures among politicians. The party uses the account to introduce candidates to Hashimoto’s followers by posting links to videos about them. To introduce party policies, the Japanese Communist Party has created “yuru-kyara,” cute and friendly mascot characters for each of its main policy agenda items, such as “Constitution” and “employment,” and is trying to stress the party’s openness to voters.

Opportunity for Abe After the 2013 Upper House Election

After the July 2013 Upper House election, The Economist reported: “For Mr Abe, who swept to office in December and whose poll ratings have since remained astonishingly high, it means redemption after a brief and inept first spell as prime minister seven years ago. Second and more profoundly, an electorate that has for years returned a divided Diet at nearly every election has at last given a single party a mandate. That could end the political dysfunction that has seen 15 prime ministers in 20 years. They want joined-up government and they want Mr Abe and his Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) to lead it—only four years after both were humiliatingly ejected from power. Japan now faces the unusual prospect of at least three years of political stability. Mr Abe has been given a big chance. He must not blow it. [Source: The Economist, July 27, 2013 /:\]

Japan voted for “Abenomics”, the mix of bold monetary easing, fiscal stimulus and promised structural changes with which the prime minister is now identified. Voters like the pep he has put back into the stockmarket, business sentiment and consumer confidence. They now want him to pull the economy out of its slump. That means liberalising trade and deregulating the economy so that new jobs can be created for a younger, dispirited generation. This desire for change was apparent even in the countryside, where Mr Abe’s commitment to bring Japan into the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), an emerging regional free-trade grouping, had been predicted to repel farmers. In the end, many rural voters backed the LDP. /:\

“Mr Abe will have to overcome resistance not so much from the opposition (there is not one to speak of) but from within his party. He must confront big business and entrenched workers and free the labour market in ways that make it easier to fire people in dying industries and hire them in rising ones. He should allow foreign competition in health care. And, to join the TPP, he must face down the country’s protected farmers. /:\

“Mr Abe can now relaunch his growth strategy. It should include immigration—a taboo subject in Japan, but essential for a country with an ageing, shrinking population. Unless Mr Abe can raise Japan’s long-run rate of growth, he will not be able to fulfil his promise to repair public finances. /:\

“There is a danger that the ultraconservative Mr Abe will be tempted to use his new majority for political, rather than economic, purposes. He wants to rewrite the constitution imposed on Japan after the country’s defeat in the second world war, so as to erase that humiliation and make Japan a more “normal” country—one able to stand up, especially, to a more assertive China. Yet Mr Abe will need all his political capital and backroom talent to achieve his economic mandate, without a scintilla to spare for constitutional adventurism. As a nationalist, Mr Abe claims to hold his country’s interests paramount: he should prove that by focusing his energy on the urgent task of revitalising its economy.” /:\

Abe Reshuffles 18-Member Cabinet and Includes Five Women

Yuko Obuchi

In September 2014, Abe carried out his first Cabinet reshuffle since returning to office in December 2012 with the aim of tightening his grip on power. Kyodo reported: “Abe retained close allies such as Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga and Finance Minister Taro Aso in key posts while increasing the number of female ministers to a record-tying five from two in line with his policy of raising women’s status in society. “The five women make up more than a quarter of the 18-strong cabinet Among them “Yuko Obuchi, the second daughter of the late Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi, was appointed trade minister, and Sanae Takaichi will serve as internal affairs minister. Junichiro Koizumi’s Cabinet had five female ministers between April 2001 and September 2002. [Source: Kyodo, September 3, 2014 */*]

“The reshuffle came as Abe faces a host of challenges at home and abroad, including whether to go ahead with another tax hike after the economy was shaken by a consumption tax increase in April, and whether ties with China and South Korea, frayed over territorial and history disputes, can be repaired. LDP Secretary General Shigeru Ishiba, a potential rival to Abe in a future party leadership race, took one of the two newly created Cabinet posts, which is aimed at boosting regional economies. Ishiba had declined Abe’s offer of another new post to work on national security legislation, saying the differences in views between him and Abe will be targets of criticism from opposition parties if he were to speak from that position in parliamentary debate. */*

“The public approval rating for the Abe Cabinet had recently dropped to around 50 percent from a peak of over 70 percent several months after the launch of his second administration in December 2012. When Abe first served as prime minister in 2006 and 2007, his Cabinet was short-lived. But his just-dissolved one set a post-World War II record as the longest-serving Cabinet with no changes in its lineup at 617 days.” */*

The naming of five female cabinet ministers comes close to matching Abe’s declared aim for the percentage of women in senior positions. Earlier he had has said he wants 30 percent of senior business and political positions occupied by women by 2020. Abe has repeatedly spoken of the need to get more women into the labour market where an ever-shrinking workforce must provide for a growing number of retirees. “We have to revise ideas of seeing everything from men’s viewpoint,” Abe said in early 2014. “The most underused resource we have is the power of women. Japan must be a place where women are given the chance to shine.” [Source: Japan Today, AFP, September 3, 2014 ~~]

“Yuko Obuchi, 40, became the first woman to assume the powerful post of economy, trade and industry minister. She has made the grade once before, at the age of 34, and holds the record for being the youngest female cabinet minister Japan has had. Among other female politicians getting the nod were Midori Matsushima, 58, as justice minister, and Haruko Arimura, 43, as minister in charge of women’s activities. “Abe is trying to give an example of his commitment to the better use of women by appointing five of them,” said Shinichi Nishikawa, professor of politics at Meiji University in Tokyo. Appointing women was also expected to lead to a rise in support for him among female voters, Nishikawa said.” ~~

Two Scandal-Plagued Female Cabinet Members Forced to Quit

Midori Matsushima

In October 2014, Japan’s female Justice Minister Midori Matsushima resigned, hours after the resignation of Trade and Industry Minister Yuko Obuchi. Matsushima was accused by the opposition of violating election laws. Obuchi is alleged to have misused funds from her political support groups and other donations. The resignations were a major setback for Abe, who had just appointed them a few weeks earlier. [Source: BBC, October 20, 2014 =|=]

The BBC reported: Abe said he took responsibility for having appointed both women. Obuchi, was tipped by some as a future prime minister. But allegations emerged that her staff had misused thousands of dollars of campaign funds. Ms Obuchi has not acknowledged personal wrongdoing, but at a televised press conference, she said she was resigning because "we cannot let economic policy and energy policy stagnate... because of my problems". "I take seriously the impact I have caused," she said. She also apologised for being unable to contribute to key goals set by Mr Abe, including economic recovery and "a society where women shine". Obuchi was the first cabinet official to resign since Abe took office almost two earlier. =|=

“Hours later Mr Abe announced that Ms Matsushima, 58, had also resigned. She had distributed paper fans carrying her image and policies at a festival in her constituency, said NHK. The opposition Democratic Party filed a criminal complaint against her, and demanded her resignation, saying this was an apparent violation of election law and rules on usage of political funds.” =|=

According to Bloomberg: “Two other women Abe named to his cabinet have also come in for criticism after separate photos of emerged of them posing with a former Japanese neo-Nazi leader. The two, Internal Affairs Minister Sanae Takaichi and Eriko Yamatani, the minister for abductee issues, denied knowing about the man’s neo-Nazi links. Abe’s approval ratings originally got a bounce after he named a record five women to his new cabinet on Sept. 3. They have given back some of their gains in recent weeks after the revelations about his new ministers. The approval rating of Abe’s Cabinet dropped 6.8 percentage points from September to 48.1 percent, according to a Kyodo News public poll conducted in mid October. [Source: Bloomberg, October 19, 2014 <<<]

“Obuchi’s support group organized theater trips for which participants paid less than the ticket price, a possibly illegal use of funds, NHK and other media reported. A political funding group she heads spent 2 million yen ($19,000) on goods from a company where her brother-in-law is a director, the Nikkei newspaper said. As industry minister, Obuchi was set to lead Abe’s effort to bring some of the country’s nuclear reactors back into operation, a policy opposed by a majority of the public, particularly women, after the 2011 Fukushima disaster. Obuchi, the mother of two young boys, attracted widespread support when she took over her father’s seat after he died in 2000 while serving as prime minister. She became the youngest postwar cabinet minister in 2008.”

In February 2015, farm minister Koya Nishikawa was forced to reign over a donation scandal. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, February 24, 2015]

Abe Calls for Snap Elections

2014 election results, LDP in Green

In September 2015, Abe won a new term as president of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) after no challengers filed applications to run against him. Makiko Inoue wrote in the New York Times, The LDP re-elected Abe as its president “after his potential rival, Seiko Noda, failed to achieve enough support from lawmakers to contest the post. Mr. Abe will remain party leader for a second three-year term. “I think the majority of the party lawmakers think we should work as one carrying out our responsibility for the Japanese people,” Mr. Abe told reporters. “Abenomics is still halfway through. I would like to bring the virtuous circle of the economic recovery to every corner of the country, promote revitalizing local economies and accelerate the recovery process from the disaster,” a reference to earthquake and tsunami that struck northeastern Japan, including Fukushima Prefecture, in 2011, the year before he took office. [Source: Makiko Inoue, New York Times, September 8, 2015]

in November 2015, Abe called an early election, two years ahead of schedule. Many wondered why the election was necessary and there was a general lack of enthusiasm about it. Abe’s party, the LDP already had a majority in the lower house, but analysts said Mr Abe hoped to consolidate his power while the main opposition party was weak and in disarray. He also wanted a mandate to continue with "Abenomics" economic policies. "I need to hear the voice of the people," Mr Abe said. "I will step down if we fail to keep our majority because that would mean our Abenomics is rejected." Tomohiko Taniguchi, one of his senior advisers told the BBC instability was the last thing voters want: "Many people in Japan still remember how chaotic Japan’s revolving door politics was, when the prime minister changed once every year," he said. [Source: Rupert Wingfield-Hayes, BBC, November 18, 2014]

Rupert Wingfield-Hayes of the BBC wrote: “People on the streets of Tokyo appear bemused by the prospect of yet another election. But Mr Abe said he wants a new mandate to push ahead with even more ambitious economic reform. He wants to spend even more money, and to delay another tax rise... But there is another reason for calling an election now. This month Mr Abe’s popularity slipped below 50 percent for the first time since his election in 2012. By Japanese standards 50 percent is still quite high. But in another year from now Mr Abe may face a much tougher battle to get re-elected. Better to go now while he is still almost certain of winning another majority, and locking in another four years in power.

“An election does not need to be held until December 2016. But Mr Abe is looking for a secure mandate ahead of introducing unpopular policies that could see his popularity fall even further, correspondents say. Mr Abe has also strongly advocated restarting Japan’s nuclear power generation plants, all of which were shut down amid public anger after the Fukushima disaster in 2011. Before the accident about 30 percent of Japan’s power was nuclear-generated, and Mr Abe says the shutdown is damaging the economy because of expensive energy imports. Mr Abe has also supported a reinterpretation of Japan’s constitution that would allow the use of force to act to defend allies, known as collective self-defence.

Abe’s Secures Big Win in 2014 Election Amid Record Low Turnout

2014 results

Abe’s coalition scored big win in the 2015 election amid record low turnout. Reuters reported: “Abe, brushing aside suggestions that a low turnout tarnished his coalition’s election win, vowed to stick to his reflationary economic policies, tackle painful structural reforms and pursue his muscular security stance. But doubts persist as to whether Abe, who now has a shot to become a rare long-lasting leader in Japan, can engineer sustainable growth with his "Abenomics". "We heard the voice of the people saying 'Move forward with Abenomics'," Abe told a news conference at the LDP headquarters, adorned with giant posters of his campaign slogan "This is the only path". "I want to boldly implement the 'Three Arrows'," a reference to his economic strategy. [Source: Linda Sieg and Tetsushi Kajimoto, Reuters, December 15, 2014 |+|]

“The LDP and its junior partner, the Komeito party, won 326 seats in the poll to maintain a two-thirds "super-majority" that smoothes parliamentary business. That was unchanged from the coalition tally before the poll, although the LDP itself slipped slightly to 291 seats from 295. Many voters, doubtful of both the premier’s "Abenomics" strategy to end deflation and generate growth and the opposition’s ability to do any better, stayed at home. Turnout was an estimated record low of 53.3 percent, well below the 59.3 percent in a 2012 poll that returned Abe to power for a rare second term on pledges to reboot an economy plagued by deflation and an ageing, shrinking population. |+|

“In a sign of the fragility of Abe’s mandate, the LDP won 75 percent of the seats in single-member districts that account for 295 lower house seats with just 48 percent of the vote, data in the Tokyo Shimbun metropolitan newspaper showed. But with the mainstream opposition still weak, any resistance to Abe’s policies will likely come from his allies in the dovish Komeito party, which increased its seats to 35 from 31, and from inside the LDP itself, should the economy falter. |+|

“Abe said he would knuckle down on his "Third Arrow" of reforms in politically sensitive areas such as the protected farm sector, although he did not mention labor market deregulation that many experts say is key. The LDP-led coalition victory and” Abe’s re-election in a party leadership race in September 2015, boosted “the likelihood, but by no means guaranteeing, that he stays in power through 2018. |+|

Abe’s Government After the 2014 Election Win

A week after the election, AFP reported: Japan’s “lower house voted overwhelmingly to confirm 60-year-old Abe, with 328 votes against 73 for acting opposition leader Katsuya Okada. That was followed by an upper house poll which officially endorsed Abe as premier following his sweeping election victory. His new cabinet was largely unchanged with Taro Aso returning as deputy premier and finance minister, Fumio Kishida as foreign minister and Yoichi Miyazawa in the industry minister post. The only new face was Gen Nakatani, replacing Akinori Eto as defence minister after Eto declined reappointment in the midst of a political funding scandal. Nakatani, 57, headed the defence agency — later upgraded to a ministry — in 2001-2002. [Source: Kyoko Hasegawa, AFP, December 24, 2014]

As a first step to help jump the economy, Abe said his government would initiate new measures, partially financed by a supplementary budget reportedly worth some 3.0 trillion yen ($25 billion) to counter the post tax-rise downturn. Among the new measures are housing loan subsidies and tuition support for students, the Yomiuri newspaper and other media reported.

In September 2015, Abe won a new term as president of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) after no challengers filed applications to run against him. Makiko Inoue wrote in the New York Times, The LDP re-elected Abe as its president “after his potential rival, Seiko Noda, failed to achieve enough support from lawmakers to contest the post. Mr. Abe will remain party leader for a second three-year term. “I think the majority of the party lawmakers think we should work as one carrying out our responsibility for the Japanese people,” Mr. Abe told reporters. “Abenomics is still halfway through. I would like to bring the virtuous circle of the economic recovery to every corner of the country, promote revitalizing local economies and accelerate the recovery process from the disaster,” a reference to earthquake and tsunami that struck northeastern Japan, including Fukushima Prefecture, in 2011, the year before he took office. [Source: Makiko Inoue, New York Times, September 8, 2015]

Poor Showing by Japan’s Opposition in the 2015 Election

Analysts said the election victory was more a result of a weak and fragmented opposition offering few credible alternatives than a resounding endorsement of Abe and his policies. Reuters reported: “The main opposition Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) won 73 seats, with further gains blocked largely by voters' memories of a 2009-2012 rule plagued by policy flip-flops and infighting. DPJ leader Banri Kaieda, criticized by many in his own camp for lack of charisma, lost his seat. The party’s limp performance has raised concerns Japan is returning to one-party dominance that characterized politics for decades - although some analysts said the poor showing of rival mini-parties suggested the opposition could begin to coalesce around the DPJ. The Japan Communist Party won 21 seats, more than double its strength before the election.” [Source: Linda Sieg and Tetsushi Kajimoto, Reuters, December 15, 2014 |+|]

candidate in 2016

The main opposition party — the embattled Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) — struggled to field 200 candidates, considerably less than half of the 475 seats up for grabs and a reflection of the party’s dismal state since it was ousted from power in late 2012. The Yomiuri Shimbun reported: “Unless there is a reorganization of opposition parties...it now appears increasingly unlikely that a “two major party system” involving the DPJ and the Liberal Democratic Party will emerge. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, December 1, 2014 <<<]

“The DPJ has fielded candidates for at least half the seats available in all five lower house elections held since the party was formed in 1998. A senior DPJ official told the Yomiuri Shimbun Yomiuri before the election: “We’ve added a few more in the single-seat constituencies, but only a handful. In the proportional representation race, there will even be some regional blocks where we don’t field any candidates. <<<

“The decline in DPJ candidates stems partly from its agreement with the Japan Innovation Party and other opposition parties to work together to support the same candidate in some constituencies, to increase the chances of defeating candidates put forward by the dominant LDP. In a concession to the Japan Innovation Party, the DPJ has opted not to run its own candidates in about 10 single-seat constituencies. Some DPJ members have expressed dissatisfaction with party leader Banri Kaieda’s handling of the situation. “He’s spent so much time trying to rebuild the party that our election strategies have been neglected,” a senior DPJ member said.” <<<

Abe’s Party Wins by a Landslide in 2016 Upper House Election

In July 2016, Japan’s Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), the ruling party led by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, won a landslide victory in upper house elections. The LDP won 56 of 121 seats up for election. Its coalition partner, Komeito, won 14 seats. The LDP-Komeito coalition gained ten seats for a total of 146 (60.3 percent of all seats in the house), the largest coalition achieved since the size of the house was set at 242 seats. The LDP ran up a stronger-than-expected victory as voters chose to stability despite concerns about Abe’s economic policies and plans to revise the post-war pacifists constitution for the first time.The LDP-Komeito coalition holds 326 of 475 seats in the lower house (68.6 percent of all seats in that house) and 472 of 717 seats in both houses (65.8), effectively giving the colation a two-thirds majority in both houses.

results of 2016 election

According to the VOA News: “The upper house is known as the National Diet. Only half the seats in the 242-seat diet are up for election every three years. The two main issues during the election campaign were the economic policies of Shinzo Abe, known as Abenomics, and calls to change Japan’s pacifist constitution. The ruling coalition already controls the lower house of parliament. The coalition needed Sunday’s victory to capture a two-thirds majority in both houses. That ‘supermajority’ and a simple majority in a nationwide referendum are required to amend the constitution.” [Source: VOA News, July 11, 2016]

The Japan News reported: “The ruling Liberal Democratic Party and its coalition partner Komeito scored a victory in the House of Councillors election, earning more than enough seats to attain a majority of the 121 contested seats, according to official results and election tallies by The Yomiuri Shimbun and the NTV network.“I think the result of this election was the voice of the people who urge us to vigorously advance the current economic policies,” Prime Minister and LDP leader Shinzo Abe said Sunday night in an interview with NHK after the victory was assured. [Source: Japan News, July 11, 2016 +++]

The opposition camp made a “disappointing showing in the election. A total of 31 Democratic Party candidates won seats in the upper house. In an interview with NHK, DP leader Katsuya Okada admitted that the opposition parties could not prevent the ruling camp from securing a majority. “Since I am the president, I bear responsibility,” Okada said. Four opposition parties, including the DP and the Japanese Communist Party, fielded unified candidates in all 32 constituencies in which only one seat is up for grabs. +++

“The election was the first full-scale national poll since the inauguration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s third Cabinet in December 2014. The key point of contention was whether a majority of voters would support Abenomics, the prime minister’s economic policy package. Another focus was whether the ruling parties and those among the opposition parties and independents that favor amending the Constitution would be able to secure the two-thirds majority of the 242 House of Councillors seats available — or 162 — needed to initiate constitutional amendment. Pro-amendment lawmakers secured 162 seats in the upper house of the Diet. As the possibility of the pro-amendment camp securing a two-thirds majority increased, Abe told NHK, “From now, we will move on to research commissions on the Constitution [in both houses of the Diet], and discussions will be consolidated into which provisions [of the Constitution] would be changed and how.” +++

“Voter turnout is estimated to stand at around 54 percent, according to The Yomiuri Shimbun’s estimates, compared to 52.61 percent in 2013 upper house poll. The lowest voter turnout for a House of Councillors election was 44.52 percent in 1995. The 2016 election was the first national election since the minimum voting age was lowered from 20 to 18. About 2.4 million youths aged 18 and 19, including some third-year high school students, joined the electorate. Voters went to the polls at about 48,000 voting stations; most opened at 7 a.m. and closed at 8 p.m. +++

“Abe set a win-or-lose line at 61 seats, or a majority of the 121 being contested, for the ruling camp. The LDP needed to win 57 seats to regain a single-party majority in the upper house for the first time in 27 years, taking into account the 65 uncontested seats it has. For the pro-constitutional amendment camp, including Initiatives from Osaka (Osaka Ishin no Kai) and the Party for Japanese Kokoro, a combined 78 seats were needed to secure a two-thirds upper house majority. +++

“Early in June, Abe announced his decision to postpone the consumption tax rate hike scheduled for April 2017 by 2½ years. He expressed his intention to seek a public mandate from voters over the postponement. At the time, Abe also said, “The biggest focus of the upper house election is whether we will accelerate the engine of Abenomics or return to a long tunnel of deflation.” During the official election campaign period, opposition parties criticized Abenomics as a failure, saying the income gap has been widening under the prime minister’s economic policies. +++

An upper house election is held every three years to contest half of the chamber’s 242 seats. In Sunday’s poll, 73 seats were contested in constituencies and 48 were allotted to the proportional representation section. Following the latest revision of the Public Offices Election Law, 10 seats were added in heavily populated prefectures and 10 seats were cut in sparsely populated prefectures to correct the disparity in the relative value of one vote. In this “plus-10, minus-10” formula, the Tottori and Shimane constituencies were merged, as were Tokushima and Kochi. As a result, there were a record 32 one-seat constituencies.” +++

Impact of the 2016 Upper House Election on Amending the Constitution

Abe campiagning in 2016

According to the VOA News: “The upper house is known as the National Diet. Only half the seats in the 242-seat diet are up for election every three years. The two main issues during the election campaign were the economic policies of Shinzo Abe, known as Abenomics, and calls to change Japan’s pacifist constitution. The ruling coalition already controls the lower house of parliament. The coalition needed Sunday’s victory to capture a two-thirds majority in both houses. That ‘supermajority’ and a simple majority in a nationwide referendum are required to amend the constitution.” [Source: VOA News, July 11, 2016 *-*]

“The prime minister said the Japanese people will decide on the question of amending the constitution if a special election is called. Abe would like to change article 9 of the document. Article 9 stops Japan from going to war to settle international disputes involving the state. The public is largely divided over calls to amend the constitution. Some opinion polls indicate most people disagree with talk of a more active military. *-*

“Abe’s supporters say Japan needs a stronger and less restricted military to answer possible threats from other countries in East Asia. They say countries like China and North Korea are increasing their military power and nuclear activities. China and other areas that suffered under Japanese occupation in World War II have expressed concern about calls to change the constitution. They warn that Japan could again become an aggressive military power if the document is amended. China’s official news agency Xinhua published a commentary on the Japanese election...It expressed alarm about Abe’s power expanding and possible changes to the constitution. The commentary said Japan’s militarization will not help Japan or its neighbors.” *-*

Abe Orders New Stimulus Package after 2016 Election Win

After the 2016 landslide Upper House election victory, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe ordered a new round of fiscal stimulus spending as indicators showed that corporate sector was suffering due to weak demand. Abe did not state the size of the spending program. But there are reports that it could total $100 billion. Reuters reported: “Abe did not give details on the size of the package, but Japanese stocks jumped nearly 4 percent and the yen weakened over perceptions a landslide victory in upper house elections now gives him a free hand to draft economic policy. An unexpected decline in machinery orders shows the economy needs something to overcome consistently weak corporate investment. Economists worry, however, that Abe’s focus on public works spending will not tackle the structural issues around a declining population and workforce. [Source: Stanley White and Tetsushi Kajimoto, Reuters, July 12, 2016 ==]

“More public works also increases pressure on the Bank of Japan to keep interest rates low and the yen weak to make sure stimulus spending will gain traction. The government was ready to spend more than 10 trillion yen ($100 billion), ruling party sources told Reuters before the election.“We are going to make bold investment into seeds of future growth,” Abe told a news conference. Abe said he wanted to strengthen agriculture exports from rural areas and improve infrastructure, such as trains and ports, to welcome more tourists and cruise ships from overseas. “We have promised through this election campaign that we will sell the world the agricultural products and tourism resources each region is proud of,” he said. He reiterated a campaign pledge to improve access to child care and elderly care. He will also consider providing grants to students struggling with college debt. ==

“The prime minister said he wanted to take advantage of the Bank of Japan’s zero-interest-rate-policy and issue bonds for public-private partnerships. The government will also sell construction bonds, which are earmarked for public works projects, for the first time in four years to fund part of the stimulus package, the Nikkei newspaper reported, without citing sources. The emphasis on the tourism industry in the package is about making a long-term investment, said Hiroshi Miyazaki, senior economist at Mitsubishi UFJ Morgan Stanley Securities. “But the recent success in tourism has been due to the relaxing of visa requirements and a weakening yen. Now that the yen is rising, the BOJ’s (Bank of Japan) monetary easing needs to accompany this plan for it to work,” Miyazaki said. ==

“Some economists say public spending on infrastructure is needed to compensate for the private sector’s reluctance to invest in plants and equipment. Machinery orders fell unexpectedly in May as a strong yen and weak demand eroded corporate profits and spending plans, data on Monday showed, another sign the economy is struggling to attract the investment it needs to sustain growth. The Cabinet Office said machinery orders are “stalling”, a downgrade from April’s assessment that said orders were showing signs of “pickup”. ==

“Other economists have argued the main reason Abe’s policies have disappointed after more than three years in office are a lack of bold steps to liberalise the labour market and reverse a population decline. These kinds of structural reforms are known as the “third arrow” in the prime minister’s economic program, dubbed Abenomics. The other two arrows are fiscal packages, such as the one announced on Monday, and monetary stimulus from the BOJ. The BOJ has kept monetary policy steady since January, when it decided to add negative rates to its massive asset-buying program in a fresh attempt to accelerate inflation.” ==

Marcel Thieliant, a researcher at Capital Economics, told Business Insider the election result is “no reason to cheer,” and that Abe’s victory will be a detriment to the economy. This is mainly because Abe’s crushing victory will allow him to keep avoiding necessary structural reform in favor of continued fiscal stimulus, according to Thieliant. The Liberal Democrats made the same promises in 2014 as they they did in 2016 to continue “Abenomics” and make structural reforms, but there’s been little progress on structural reform since then. Instead, Abe’s government will most likely continue to use increased spending to revitalize the economy. “With little prospect for a sweeping overhaul of Japan’s economy, hope for any near-term improvement in the outlook rest on prospects for aggressive fiscal stimulus,” Thieliant states. Thieliant predicts that the looser fiscal policy will accelerate GDP growth from 0.5 percent this year to 0.8 percent in 2018 — but that the spending will then level off or fall, causing a renewed slowdown in GDP growth to 0.5 percent in 2018. [Source: Chloe Pfeiffer, Business Insider, July 12, 2016] Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, The Guardian, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, NBC News, Fox News and various books and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated September 2016

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