Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, riding high in opinion polls on hopes he can revive a stagnant economy, urged voters on Thursday to back his ruling bloc in this month's upper house election and end a six-year policy deadlock.
Abe, back in power after his Liberal
Democratic Party's big win in a December election for the powerful lower house,
is expected to lead his coalition to a hefty victory in the July 21 poll,
resolving a "twisted parliament" where opposition parties control the upper
house and are able to block bills.
He officially kicked off the campaign
on Thursday in Fukushima in Japan's northeast, which was devastated by a massive
earthquake and tsunami in 2011 that triggered the Fukushima nuclear
"Because of a twisted parliament, rebuilding has not progressed
speedily, revitalisation of the economy has not progressed speedily," Abe told a
crowd of about 1,000 people near a train station in Fukushima city.
has suffered parliamentary gridlock ever since Abe led the LDP to a massive
defeat in a 2007 upper house vote. He quit abruptly two months later due to the
deadlock, plummeting support and ill health. The main opposition Democratic
Party of Japan (DPJ) faced a similar headache after sweeping to power in 2009,
only to lose a 2010 upper house election.
Public support for Abe and the
LDP now far outstrips any rivals, buoyed by hopes that his recipe of hyper-easy
monetary policy, fiscal spending and structural reform to boost growth can end
Japan's prolonged stagnation.
An opinion poll by the Tokyo Shimbun
published on Tuesday showed that 28 percent of respondents planned to vote for
the LDP in districts where members are decided by proportional representation,
dwarfing the 5.9 percent who intend to cast ballots for the DPJ.
support for the LDP in general contrasts with public antipathy towards nuclear
power after the Fukushima crisis, the world's worst atomic disaster since
Chernobyl. A huge earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2011, caused reactor
meltdowns at Tokyo Electric Power Co's (9501.T: Quote, Profile, Research)
Fukushima plant, spewing radiation and forcing 160,000 people to flee, many
never to return home.
The LDP has pledged to seek the understanding of
affected communities to restart offline reactors that are found to meet new
safety standards that take effect on July 8. ECONOMY FIRST
we have a party in power that can get things done in power, things won't
change," said a 65-year-old woman who lives in a Fukushima apartment reserved
for disaster victims.
"I haven't actually felt the economic recovery
affecting my life just yet. But I support 'Abenomics'. At least they took one
step forward," she said, adding however that she also opposed the restart of
Abe, a deeply conservative hawk who wants to revise
Japan's pacifist constitution to ease limits on the military, has vowed to
maintain his priority on fixing the economy after the election. However, many
wonder if he will shift gears to focus on his agenda that includes
Stress on his conservative agenda, including
efforts to recast Japan's war-time history with a less apologetic tone, would
further strain relations with China and South Korea, where bitter memories of
Japan's past militarism run deep. Tokyo is already feuding with Beijing and
Seoul over disputed islands.
Abe, in a debate with rivals on Wednesday,
declined to say whether he would visit Tokyo's Yasukuni Shrine, where Japanese
leaders convicted as war criminals by an Allied tribunal are enshrined with
Japan's war dead. He also declined to be drawn on questions whether Japan had
engaged in a war of aggression against China in the last century.
victory by the LDP and its junior partner, the New Komeito, widely expected, the
focus will also be on whether the Liberal Democrats can win a majority on their
own in the 242-seat chamber, where half the seats are up for grabs.
massive win for the party could be a mixed blessing: it would give Abe a mandate
but also bolster the ranks of MPs who may oppose painful reforms many say are
needed to revive growth.
Whether the LDP-led coalition, together with
smaller parties that favour revising the constitution, can win a two-thirds
majority is another key question, although Abe has said he will not rush to
attempt any constitutional changes given wary public opinion and a cautious
stance by the more dovish New Komeito.
Abe wants first to revise Article
96 of the charter, which stipulates that any change in the constitution requires
approval by two-thirds of both houses of parliament and a majority of votes cast
in a public referendum.
He and the LDP want to change the parliamentary
requirement to a simple majority in both houses before the public
Abe's resignation in 2007 began a series of revolving-door leaders
- Japan has had seven since Junichiro Koizumi served a rare five-year term
ending in 2006. A win on July 21 could set the stage for the first stable,
long-term administration since then. No national election needs to be held until
At the same time, an anticipated bashing for the Democratic Party,
which surged to power in 2009 pledging to pry control of policymaking away from
bureaucrats and pay more heed to consumers than companies, could call into
question its future as well as hopes for a true two-party system in Japan.