UPDATE 6-Abe coalition secures big Japan election win with record low turnout – Reuters
* Low turnout mars victory for ruling LDP party
* Abe vows to stay course on reflationary policies
* Doubts simmer about “Third Arrow” reforms
* Abe says will pursue constitutional changes
(Adds comment from China’s foreign ministry)
TOKYO, Dec 15 (Reuters) – Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo
Abe, brushing aside suggestions that a low turnout tarnished his
coalition’s election win, vowed on Monday 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” recipe of hyper-easy
monetary policy, government spending and promises of
“We heard the voice of the people saying ‘Move forward with
Abenomics’,” Abe told a news conference at his ruling Liberal
Democratic Party (LDP) headquarters, adorned with giant posters
of the premier and his campaign slogan “This is the only path”.
“I want to boldly implement the ‘Three Arrows’,” Abe said,
adding he would compile stimulus steps before the year’s end and
ask business leaders to boost wages, which have not kept pace
with rises in consumer prices.
The LDP and its junior partner, the Komeito party, won 326
seats in Sunday’s 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.
Tokyo’s Nikkei share average closed down 1.57 percent on the
widely-expected election results after a weak performance Friday
by the U.S. stock market.
PATCHY RECOVERY, UNPOPULAR POLICIES
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 labour market
deregulation that many experts say is key.
Hopes for Abenomics were hit when Japan slipped into
recession in the third quarter following an April sales tax rise
and recent data suggest any economic rebound is fragile.
Highlighting the patchy recovery, big manufacturers’
sentiment worsened slightly in the three months to December but
corporate spending plans were strong, the Bank of Japan’s
quarterly “tankan” survey showed.
Abe decided last month to put off a second tax hike to 10
percent until April 2017, raising concerns about how Japan will
curb its huge public debt, the worst among advanced nations.
“Between now and the delayed tax increase, we need to revive
the economy and find a path to fiscal rebuilding,” said LDP
lawmaker Shinjiro Koizumi late on Sunday.
“If you think about it in that way, even though we have won,
there is no room here for celebrating.”
Abe, whose support has now sagged well below 50 percent,
called the election after just two years in office to strengthen
his grip on power before tackling unpopular policies.
That includes restarting nuclear reactors taken off-line
after the 2011 Fukushima disaster and a security policy shift
away from post-war pacifism. Abe said he would strive to get
public understanding to revise the pacifist constitution.
That agenda has raised hackles in China, where bitter
memories of Japan’s past militarism run deep.
“We hope that Japan can really learn the lessons from
history, go with the trend of the times of peaceful development,
win-win cooperation and respect the legitimate, reasonable
security concerns of countries in the region,” said foreign
ministry spokesman Qin Gang, when asked about Abe’s victory.
The LDP-led coalition victory could ease Abe’s path to
re-election in a party leadership race next September, boosting
the likelihood, but by no means guaranteeing, that he stays in
power through 2018.
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, criticised 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 characterised 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.
(Additional reporting by Elaine Lies, Antoni Slodkowski, Leika
Kihara, Kevin Krolicki, Daiki Iga, Sumio Ito and Noriyuki Hirata
in Tokyo and Ben Blachard in Beijing; Editing by Mike
Collett-White and Rachel Armstrong)