Priorities in focus after Abe's bloc wins big

Priorities in focus after Abe's bloc wins big

TOKYO - Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's ruling bloc won a decisive victory in an upper house election on Sunday, cementing his grip on power and setting the stage for Japan's first stable government since the charismatic Junichiro Koizumi left office in 2006.

The victory gives the hawkish leader a stronger mandate for his "Abenomics" recipe to revive the economy and spells his personal political redemption after he led his Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) to a humiliating defeat in a 2007 upper house election.

The ensuing parliamentary deadlock allowed the opposition to block legislation and led to Abe's resignation two months later. That "twisted parliament" has hampered policies for most of the six years since and led to a string of revolving-door leaders.

"People wanted politics that can make decisions and an administration with a stable grounding, which led to today's result," LDP Vice President Masahiko Komura told public broadcaster NHK.

"'Abenomics' is proceeding smoothly and people want us to ensure the benefits reach them too. That feeling was strong."

Abe, 58, who returned to power after a big win in December's lower house poll for his LDP and coalition partner New Komeito, has said he will remain focused on fixing the economy with his "Abenomics" mix of hyper-easy monetary policy, fiscal spending and structural reforms.

But some worry that Abe's resolve for economic reform could weaken in the face of a resurgent LDP. A landslide victory could bolster opposition to regulatory reform from LDP lawmakers with close ties to industries that would suffer from change.

Critics also worry Abe will shift focus to the conservative agenda that has long been central to his ideology, and concentrate on revising the post-war pacifist constitution and recasting Tokyo's wartime history with a less apologetic tone.

Such a shift, along with moves to strengthen Japan's defence posture, would further fray ties with China and South Korea, where bitter memories of Japan's past militarism run deep. Tokyo is already engaged in tense territorial rows with Beijing and Seoul over tiny, uninhabited islands.

"I have the impression that Prime Minister Abe wants to revise the constitution, though I don't think it will be easy," said apparel firm employee Etsuko Yamada, 35, who voted for the opposition Japanese Communist Party.

"I want him to show Japan's presence through diplomacy with strong negotiating power, not though military power by spending money to rearm."

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