Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s ruling bloc was headed for a big win in Sunday’s election, bolstering his chance of becoming the nation’s longest-serving premier and reenergising his push to revise the pacifist constitution.
Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party-led (LDP) coalition was set to win 311 seats, keeping its two-thirds “super majority” in the 465-member lower house, an exit poll by TBS television showed.
Public broadcaster NHK also said the ruling bloc was closing in on a two-thirds majority, although some other broadcasters had the ruling bloc slightly below the two-thirds mark.
A hefty win raises the likelihood that Abe, who took office in December 2012, will have a third three-year term as LDP
leader next September and go on to become Japan’s longest-serving premier. It also means his “Abenomics” growth strategy centred on the hyper-easy monetary policy will likely continue.
Final official results from the election, which coincided with an approaching typhoon, are expected early on Monday.
The US-drafted Constitution’s Article 9, if taken literally, bans the maintenance of armed forces. But Japanese governments have interpreted it to allow a military exclusively for self-defence.
Backers of Abe’s proposal to clarify the military’s ambiguous status say it would codify the status quo. Critics fear it would allow an expanded role overseas for the military.
Abe said he would not stick to a target he had floated of making the changes by 2020. “First, I want to deepen debate and have as many people as possible agree,” he told a TV broadcaster. “We should put priority on that.” The LDP’s junior partner, the Komeito, is cautious about changing the constitution, drawn up after Japan’s loss in World War II. Several opposition parties favour changes, but don’t necessarily agree on details.
Amendments must be approved by two-thirds of each chamber of parliament and then by a majority in a public referendum.
“Now that pro-constitutional change parties occupy more than two-thirds of the parliament, the constitution will be the most important political issue next year,” said Hidenori Suezawa, a financial market and fiscal analyst at SMBC Nikko Securities.
“And as we saw in the UK ..., a referendum could be tricky. So while Abe is likely to be prime minister for the time being, it is too early to say whether he can stay in power until 2021.” Abe declined to say if he’d run for a third term.